Using Standardized Patients as a Means of Training and Evaluating Behavioral Health Consultants in Primary Care

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Introduction: The Health Federation of Philadelphia, which hosts a network of Behavioral Health Consultants (BHC) operating within the Primary Care Behavioral Health model (PCBH), identified a need to systematically evaluate PCBH model fidelity and to rigorously evaluate the competency assessment process to further their workforce development. A simulated patient exercise was developed for evaluating BHC PCBH specific competencies. Method: A simulated BHC encounter was held at a clinical learning center using standardized patients, repeated twice over 2 years. A competency based rating scale was developed by the network for the simulation (BHC-ORS), patient feedback was captured using the Working Alliance Inventory (WAI), and BHC feedback was collected using a questionnaire. Dedicated consultants were hired to develop the internal process, as well as conduct the evaluation in a way that might make a contribution to research. Results: Targeted PCBH competencies generally improved after being identified as training needs in Year 1 of the simulation. Patient feedback showed average ratings for the majority of the BHCs. BHCs identified the experience as valid and useful. Important changes in methodology between Years 1 and 2 of the pilot limited a more complete analysis. Discussion: The use of simulated patients to evaluate BHC adherence to the PCBH model was helpful for training and adds to the workforce development literature. The authors suggest that doing practice based research will always entail unanticipated needs that interfere with quantitative research but that there are ways in which researchers can attempt to anticipate these changes. Review of possible applications to community PCBH practice is included.

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