Behavioral science assembly marks 20th anniversary

The impact of basic, clinical and translational science advances on medical treatment over the past two decades has been tremendous, but behavioral science also has played a key role in improved clinical outcomes for patients. The ATS Behavioral Sciences and Health Services Research Assembly marked its 20th anniversary and reflected on its growth during its membership meeting Sunday night.

Behavioral science was introduced to ATS as a section in 1991 and became an assembly in 1992, said Lynn B. Gerald, PhD, MSPH, outgoing chair of the assembly. This year, it changed its name to the Behavioral Sciences and Health Services Research Assembly to reflect changes in the group.

“We started as a group of PhDs and a few MDs, but there has been a lot of growth,” said Dr. Gerald, associate dean for research and the Canyon Ranch endowed chair and professor at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

ATS was the first medical society to recognize behavioral science as an important discipline in medicine, she said. It encompasses several disciplines and often takes the patient’s perspective to determine why patients do not follow treatment recommendations.

Roni Grad, MD, chair of the Sunday session, expanded on Dr. Gerald’s comments on the role of behavioral sciences.

“There is often a disconnect between what patients need to treat disease and what they actually get. Understanding what they bring to the table on a number of fronts—beliefs, cultural differences, access to care, etc.—is critical to bridge that disconnect,” said Dr. Grad, MD, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Among the greatest challenges behavioral science must address in the near future are access to care, especially for the socioeconomically disadvantaged, and how to balance cost and benefit in a difficult economy, Dr. Grad added.