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Decke, Siona; Hamacher, Karina; Lang, Martin; Laub, Otto; Schwettmann, Lars; Strobl, Ralf; Grill, Eva (2022): Longitudinal changes of mental health problems in children and adolescents treated in a primary care-based health-coaching programme – results of the PrimA-QuO cohort study. BMC Primary Care, 23: 211. ISSN 2731-4553

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In Germany, 19.1% of boys and 14.5% of girls are affected by mental health problems (MHP). Paediatricians are usually the first in line to be contacted but they often do not feel adequately trained to diagnose and treat MHP in primary care. A major statutory health insurance fund introduced a health coaching (HC) programme to strengthen primary care consultation for MHP. The HC includes a training concept for paediatricians, standardised guidelines for actions and additional payments. The aim of this study was to investigate the potential effects of the HC programme on the change of MHP in children and adolescents.

A prospective cohort study was conducted in Bavaria, Germany, in 2018 and 2019. Data were collected at 2 points 1 year apart using an online questionnaire. Parents of patients with developmental disorder of speech and language, head/abdominal pain, conduct disorder or non-organic enuresis were approached by their health insurance. Families treated according to the HC programme form the intervention group while all others serve as controls. MHP was assessed using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) as a child self-assessment (SDQ-S)/or external assessment by parents (SDQ-P). Determinants of SDQ total score were analysed using linear mixed effects models.

Cross-sectional (n = 1090) and longitudinal analyses (n = 599) were performed. At baseline, a total of 23.5% had an SDQ total score “at risk” (SDQ-S > 15/SDQ-P > 13). There were no significant differences between intervention and controls. After full adjustment for all potential confounders, higher SDQ scores indicating more problems were significantly associated with male sex (2.000, p < 0.001) whereas a high parental education level was significantly associated with decreased SDQ scores (-2.127, p =0.034). There was a significant improvement in the control group over time (-0.814, p = 0.001) while the SDQ scores in the intervention group remained stable (-0.012, p = 0.020).

This evaluation of the HC programme could not prove a clinically relevant intervention’s effect on the MHP developmental course. Nevertheless, (HC) paediatricians have crucial potential to improve the care of MHP patients. Targeting families with less access to support measures might help reduce the burden of MHP and be a step towards continuous improvement of care.

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