In 2020, we began our spotlight series on our 2020-21 Faculty Affiliates, and continuing with this series, we would like to highlight Dr. David McCord.

David is a Professor of Clinical Psychology at WCU, with research interests focused on personality theory and the development of a new-paradigm, multi-dimensional mental health screening test for use in primary medical care settings. Before beginning his career as a professor at WCU, David received a B.A. in Psychology from Duke University, a M.A. in Clinical Psychology from WCU,  a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from The University of Alabama, and Clinical Internship in the Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, UNC-Chapel Hill.

While the goal of the U.S. healthcare system is to have integrated care across physical and mental health, because of time constraints and other factors, there are significant gaps, particularly regarding accurate and efficient screening for mental (behavioral) health concerns. To address this issue, David and his research group are currently working on a multi-dimensional mental health screening test for patients to use while they sit in the waiting room at their primary care provider’s office, or, better, on their smartphone prior to arrival. This 3-minute screener takes no time away from their visit and requires no effort on part of the provider, while thoroughly screening all patients for mental health issues or risks of suicide.

“An essential requirement is that it takes no time on the part of the primary care provider. The data are processed automatically and inserted into the electronic health record and displayed in graphical form. The provider is able to see at a quick glance whether significant behavioral health issues are involved,” said David.

Currently, their screening is 29 questions at about a fourth-grade reading level, so it is quick and easy to understand for patients. The screening measures across 9 facets of mental health and plots each on a graph, for the ease of the provider. While the screener is designed to cover major mental health issues, it includes a focus on emergent issues of suicide risk and indicators of maladaptive substance use. These two issues are significant threats to societal economic well-being and general quality of life.

“While suicide risk and substance abuse risk are certainly recognized as important health factors, current screening methods are clumsy, imprecise, and somewhat haphazardly utilized,” said David, continuing, “We are recruiting nationally recognized experts in both key areas, and at present, we are fine-tuning our prediction formulas to achieve optimal accuracy. We are advocating for population surveillance screening, every patient, every visit, in primary care. Early identification and early intervention can make a major difference in both areas.”

This instrument is not theoretical, David and his team of Graduate students have been working with MAHEC in Asheville to screen post-partum mothers. This provides tangible, real-time data to measure the accuracy and practicality of the screening.

“We’re closing in on this version 2.0, then we’ll have data, some this spring, some this summer, and then a lot next fall,” said David.

We are so excited to continue to work alongside David with his research, and we look forward to following along as his research progresses. In the future, David would like to see this mental health screening test available in all primary care facilitates across the U.S.

Thank you, Dr. David McCord for being a part of the CSFE community.