Linda Isbell Receives New Grant Aiming to Improve Medical Decision-Making for Patients with Mental Illness

linda isbellLinda Isbell, professor and social psychologist, has received a five-year, $1.71 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to study the influence of emotions on medical decision-making and diagnostic errors among emergency medicine (EM) physicians and nurses. She will lead an interdisciplinary team, collaborating with co-investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and the UMass Medical School in Worcester. Through qualitative interviews, controlled experiments, and clinical case scenarios, the researchers will look at how patients with and without mental illnesses are treated.

Little is known about how to improve clinical reasoning, and even less is known about how emotional experiences may contribute to diagnostic failure. Isbell says, “People with mental health and substance-use disorders are very highly stigmatized in society. Research shows that these patients receive lower quality health care compared to people without these disorders. People who come in to an ER with complications of diabetes, for example, are less likely to be admitted if they also have a mental illness. This health disparity is a crisis in our society.” ("Improve Health Care", par. 3)

Isbell seeks to identify factors that may influence diagnostic reasoning, studying the diagnostic process that occurs between EM physicians, nurses, and patients. She also hopes to develop cognitive interventions, tested through experimentally-manipulated emotional experiences between EM physicians and patient-actors. The physicians’ diagnostic reasoning processes and their errors will be analyzed using a variety of scenarios.

The researchers hope to find simple ways to reduce adverse influences and alter the way routine information is processed by EM physicians and nurses. These interventions could lead physicians to bring more attention to the individual rather than confining patients into a certain category or stereotype. Such knowledge has the potential to enhance patient safety not only for vulnerable, stigmatized populations such as those with mental illness, but for all patient populations.

News Office Release

Lathrop, J. (2018, January 29). UMass Amherst Research Aims to Improve Health Care for Those with Mental Illness