BACKGROUND: Patient-centred care presupposes communication based on empathy, active listening and dialogue. Our study examines the effects of integrating mental health in multi-purpose health centres on health workers' communication with patients who consult for problems unrelated to mental health. The objective is to compare the quality of communication in health centres where staff have received specific training in the management of mental disorders (SM+) compared to those without such training (SM-).
METHODS: The study was conducted among 18 health workers in charge of primary curative consultations in 12 non-governmental health centers in Guinea: 7 health workers in 4 SM+ health centers and 11 health workers in 8 SM- health centres. The study is based on mixed methods: observation, semi-structured and group interviews. The Global Consultation Rating Scale (GCRS) was applied to assess patient-centered communication.
RESULTS: The SM+ GCRS scores obtained by SM+s during observations are generally higher than the SM- scores. The odds of having a "good quality" consultation are almost 3 times higher in SM+ than in SM- for some steps in the consultation process. The SM+ discourse is more patient-centered, and differs from the more biomedical discourse of SM-. SM- health workers do not consider all of the stages of a patient-centred consultation to be applicable and recommend "leapfrogging". On the contrary, SM+ health workers consider all stages to be important and are convinced that the integration of mental health has improved their communication through the training they have received and the practice of caring for persons with mental disorders.
CONCLUSION: The integration of mental health into primary care provision represents an opportunity to improve the quality of care in its "patient-centred care" dimension. That said, optimal development of patient-centred care presupposes favorable structural conditions.