Lessons learned from service design of a trial of a digital mental health service: Informing implementation in primary care clinics

Andrea K. Graham*, Carolyn J. Greene, Thomas Powell, Pauli Lieponis, Amanda Lunsford, Chris D. Peralta, L. Casey Orr, Susan M. Kaiser, Nameyeh Alam, Helom Berhane, Ozan Kalan, David C. Mohr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Implementing a digital mental health service in primary care requires integration into clinic workflow. However, without adequate attention to service design, including designing referral pathways to identify and engage patients, implementation will fail. This article reports results from our efforts designing referral pathways for a randomized clinical trial evaluating a digital service for depression and anxiety delivered through primary care clinics. We utilized three referral pathways: direct to consumer (e.g., digital and print media, registry emails), provider referral (i.e., electronic health record [EHR] order and provider recommendation), and other approaches (e.g., presentations, word of mouth). Over the 5-month enrollment, 313 individuals completed the screen and reported how they learned about the study. Penetration was 13%, and direct to consumer techniques, most commonly email, had the highest yield. Providers only referred 16 patients through the EHR, half of whom initiated the screen. There were no differences in referral pathway based on participants' age, depression severity, or anxiety severity at screening. Ongoing discussions with providers revealed that the technologic implementation and workflow design may not have been optimal to fully affect the EHR-based referral process, which potentially limited patient access. Results highlight the importance of designing and evaluating referral pathways within service implementation, which is important for guiding the implementation of digital services into practice. Doing so can ensure that sustained implementation is not left to postevaluation bridge-building. Future efforts should assess these and other referral pathways implemented in clinical practice outside of a research trial.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)598-605
Number of pages8
JournalTranslational behavioral medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020


  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digital mental health
  • IT integration
  • Primary care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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