Harvard UHS Director Sees Mental Health as Top Concern

Harvard University’s Director of University Health Services (UHS) sat down recently with The Harbus to talk about managing UHS, HBS health services, and his top health concerns for the University. He also referred to the “caring community” at HBS as a “fascinating aspect of the b-school” and credited Dean Clark and his administration for the success.
“My biggest concern overall is stress, anxiety, and depression for all students,” said Dr. Rosenthal in his Holyoke Center Office. He said UHS has collected extensive data that indicates a high recurrence of stress, anxiety, and depressed feelings in the Harvard student population. Whereas undergraduate mental health concerns typically include alcohol abuse and eating disorders, Dr. Rosenthal said anxiety and depression are most pronounced in the graduate school population.

“A significant number of plans to address this are underway,” said Dr. Rosenthal. He talked about the recent University Provost campaign, “Caring for the Harvard Community,” in which a number of sessions covering critical health issues were held in each school. Dr. Richard Kadison, Director of UHS Mental Health Services who was interviewed by The Harbus in a January 22, 2002 article available online, held a workshop here entitled, “Staying Healthy in Times of Stress, and How to Tell When You Aren’t.”

Outreach is a critical component of managing healthcare in a university environment, said Dr. Rosenthal, and a key priority for University Health Services. For example, UHS has organized a program called “College Health Associates” in which UHS recruits volunteers from each undergraduate house (dorm house) to select from a menu of outreach services that UHS will bring to the student house to build health awareness in the College. Examples of programs include massage therapy, wellness education, relaxation techniques, and other health programs. UHS offers a wide array of preventive care programs for all students, and more information about these programs is available online on the UHS website.

E-mail use between doctors and patients is also helping to relieve resources and speed care. “It’s a double-win,” said Dr. Rosenthal, noting that increased communications for minor issues eliminates needs for follow-up visits, frees up appointment times, and speeds overall delivery of care.

A key information technology success for UHS under Dr. Rosenthal’s leadership has been the creation of the “electronic medical record.” Adamant that patient privacy concerns and data security are protected with this system, Dr. Rosenthal touted its many resource-saving and healthcare benefits.

For example, through the use of the e-record, another physician than the Primary Care Physician for a patient can attend to that patient. Students can be seen at any of the UHS satellite offices or Holyoke and the treating physician will have access to the patient’s medical records on a computer. All of the UHS efforts aim at improving the relationship between the patient and the care provider.

A number of other improvements in care are underway. Consistent with patient service-oriented guidelines set forth by a couple of high-profile industry groups, UHS is expanding the availability of care for students. Initiatives include the HBS Cumnock Health Center’s Monday morning walk-in hours, extended evening hours for physical and mental health appointments, and expanded capacity at times of the day when students most want to schedule appointments. All of this has been made possible, says Dr. Rosenthal, by the successful use of information systems throughout UHS to collect and analyze meaningful patient “customer” data.

“We at UHS are a small organization taking care of about 35,000 to 40,000 people, and we’re trying to create models of ambulatory care that fit the principles” set forth by leading industry patient care advocates. “This is a beautiful case study,” said Dr. Rosenthal. “Everything stepwise,” he said. “Assess, evaluate, plan, implement, study, and back to planning…” Clearly, Dr. Rosenthal is enmeshed in this process.
More information about University Health Services is available online at uhs.harvard.edu