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Transforming the understanding
and treatment of mental illnesses.

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Advancing Learning Health Care Research to Improve Mental Health Services and Outcomes


Robert K. Heinssen, Ph.D., ABPP
NIMH Office of the Director


This concept aims to encourage research to advance data-driven learning health care in mental health treatment settings, leading to better knowledge and tools for implementing, sustaining, and optimizing evidence-based, high quality, and equitable services.


Evidence-based treatments are available for many mental disorders affecting children, youth, and adults, but clinical effectiveness often diminishes as interventions move from controlled research environments to real-world treatment settings. Learning health care is a promising framework for mitigating this diminishment and promoting high quality, continuously improving mental health care. This concept aims to encourage effectiveness, implementation, data science, and services research that embodies learning health care principles and data-driven methods across a range of mental health treatment settings, including those that serve children with serious emotional disturbances, adults with serious mental illness, and individuals who require coordinated comprehensive behavioral health care. The concept aims to support community-engaged research to increase knowledge about measurement-based care, advanced designs for quality improvement studies, and strategies for promoting rapid implementation of new learning, including translational research findings and evidence-based crisis services, in mental health care settings. In addition, this concept would encourage practice-oriented research to further person-centered, integrated, and equitable behavioral health care for underserved populations across the United States. Future learning health care research could build upon lessons learned from existing initiatives such as the NIMH Early Psychosis Intervention Networkand SAMHSA’s Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics Implementation Science Pilot Program 

Behavioral health systems have the timely opportunity to leverage clinical practice data into action and implement learning health care methodology to improve preventive and treatment interventions for persons with mental illnesses. This concept aligns with effectiveness research, implementation science, and health equity goals outlined in the NIMH Strategic Plan for Researchand the White House Report on Mental Health Research Priorities .

The scope of research may include, but is not limited to:

  • Computational approaches to derive actionable knowledge from clinical practice data
  • Randomized and quasi-experimental designs to inform quality improvement activities
  • Implementation strategies to foster rapid translation of new learning into routine care
  • Research to improve the integration of measurement-based care into routine clinical practice
  • Practice-oriented research embedded within mental health treatment systems to promote greater understanding of clinical populations, mental health services, and recovery outcomes