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Jan Boehnke

Jan Boehnke

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Jan is a Senior Research Fellow in Evaluation Design and Research Methods at the School of Nursing and Health Sciences (SNHS) and the Dundee Centre for Health and Related Research (DCHARR). Jan's research focuses on the epidemiology of mental health and the connections between mental and physical health. Trademarks of his work are the use of modern psychometric and statistical techniques to effectively analyse indicators of health; the use of archival data sets gathering information on the general population or from service contexts; and surveys as well as (cluster-)randomised trials to evaluate the impact of interventions. Jan is highly experienced in planning evaluation projects for diverse stakeholders such as charities, government institutions, and industry. His approach to evaluation design aims at turning the full narrative account of how the intervention should work into a case-specific and stakeholder-oriented design.

Jan trained as a psychologist at the University of Konstanz (Germany) and focused on research methodology, clinical psychology, and decision theory. Jan received his PhD from Trier University (Germany, 2013) for work on using computerised adaptive testing and finite mixture models to design and deliver more efficient assessments of patient-reported outcomes during psychological therapies. Despite a focus on fundamental principles and applied statistics, Jan received a sponsorship award from Trier University for the outstanding scientific quality of his dissertation, which specifically recognised the focus on practice applications.

In 2013 Jan joined the Mental Health and Addiction Research Group as a joint appointment of the Department of Health Sciences and the Hull York Medical School at the University of York (UK). Here, Jan worked mainly on the structure of mental health and mental illness in epidemiological studies and clinical trials. Together with Tim Croudace he developed the term of "psychometric epidemiology" to shift the focus of research in mental health away from arbitrary collections of items (known as questionnaires, scales, instruments or measures) towards the notion of theory- and construct-guided selections of indicators of mental health.

Since his PhD Jan has contributed to securing more than £4 million in grant funding as Principal and Co-investigator from various funders (e.g., NIHR, Wellcome Trust, Department for Education, Education Endowment Foundation). These projects span different aspects of mental health and illness, such as comorbidity across mental and physical domains, as well as addiction, targeting adolescent and adult populations.

From 2005 to 2012 Jan worked as a statistical consultant on clinical trials, health technology assessment, mental health quality assurance, and computerised adaptive testing for patient-reported outcome measures. In 2014 Jan was Interim-Professor for "Psychological Assessment & Diagnostics" at the Institute of Psychology at the University of Kassel (Germany). Jan currently holds a position as Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York (UK).

Jan has extensive experience in providing workshops in applied statistics, research methods, quality assurance and diagnostic assessment strategies in clinical contexts. Besides having run workshops for diverse audiences for nearly a decade, Jan draws on years of experience as a lecturer teaching graduate courses on evaluation methods, multivariate statistics, psychometrics, and the psychology of individual differences and mental illness. In 2010 and 2011, he was funded by the ERASMUS programme (Teaching Mobility Scheme) to teach multivariate statistics and modern psychometric theory at the Department of Psychiatry and the Psychometrics Centre in Cambridge (UK). Today, he trains researchers and clinicians nationally as well as internationally several times per year on these topics.


Mental Health and Illness

Jan is interested in transdiagnostic perspectives on mental health and illness. His research programme focuses on three core theses:

1) Psychometric Epidemiology provides the quantitative tools to investigate the structure of psychological phenomena and reinforces the idea that the specific indicators used do not matter, but rather, research and practice need to be informed based on generalisable constructs. For example, neither researchers nor clinicians are interested in the degree of sleeplessness or quality of life as measured by a specific questionnaire – they need a reliable assessment of the degree (and potentially: change) in sleeplessness or quality of life regardless of the tool that was used to measure it.

2) Psychological phenomena are often best accounted for by dimensions since they are experienced to differing degrees by all people. Sometimes it may be practical to link such dimensions to categories (e.g., to define diagnoses), but such categorisations need theoretical as well as empirical justification.

3) Mental illnesses are an example of such categorisations and extremes on dimensions of psychological experience and distress play a particular role in their definition. Together with other criteria these extremes are used to identify symptom configurations that require targeted interventions. Distinguishing between categorical diagnoses of mental illness and dimensional constructs is important, since for example people living with mental illnesses can still experience differing degrees of well-being or quality of life (in line with the WHO definition of health).

Recent work within this framework includes the similarities and differences between assessments of well-being and common mental distress in general population samples; the structure of depression and anxiety symptoms in primary care; and potential continuities of mania and psychosis symptoms. Since mental illness occurs rarely alone, Jan's work further addresses comorbidities between physical and mental illnesses, for example the impact of physical long-term conditions on the outcome of psychological therapies or potential links between cardiac rehabilitation and common mental distress.

Jan's work always had a focus on practice applications such as clinical decision making or routine outcome monitoring. While in Trier (Germany, 2007-2013), he worked on the development and application of a range of statistical methods to measure, describe, and predict changes in patients' psychological distress and symptomatology. In addition, he was part of a team (led by Wolfgang Lutz and Werner Wittmann) evaluating the effect of quality assurance measures for outpatient psychotherapy provision in primary care in Germany. He extended this work into primary care contexts in the UK such as NHS England's 'Improving Access to Psychological Therapies' programme. Until today, his work is directly connected to the evaluation and development of clinical feedback and monitoring tools for patient-reported outcomes in primary and secondary care contexts. As a collaborator and consultant he has worked with health care providers to design and build appropriate assessment solutions and feedback/ monitoring systems for quality assurance and quality management.

Jan supervises PhD students and welcomes further applications by students interested in exploring ideas around the structure and measurement of mental health and illness, patient-reported outcomes of mental and physical health, and more technical topics around evaluation design (see next section).

Evaluation Design

Beyond his work in mental health Jan has a strong track record of applied evaluation research, which provides him with a unique perspective on evaluation design. In 2007, he was awarded a research fellowship to plan a repeated cross-sectional survey in North East Afghanistan to assess the effectiveness of aid projects at the Collaborative Research Center 700 at the Free University (Berlin, Germany). Over the 10 years of Jan working on this project, he has been in charge of the statistical analyses for this project and combination of traditional quantitative with extensive qualitative data from field work. Jan worked closely with project leads and colleagues from different social science backgrounds in Germany (Free University of Berlin; Jan Koehler) and Canada (University of Ottawa; Christoph Zürcher). The work of this multidisciplinary network has provided crucial insights into the relationships between international development cooperation, security, as well as state perception and was recognised by the wider development community.

Between 2005 and 2012 Jan worked as a statistical consultant in clinical trials, health technology assessment, mental health quality assurance, and computerised adaptive testing for patient-reported outcome measures. Motivated by his work on patient-reported outcome data, Jan has worked on extending methods to detect response style effects in questionnaires as well as to explore the fairness of psychological assessments (together with Eunike Wetzel, University of Konstanz, Germany). These methods evaluate potential biases of diagnostic systems and predictive algorithms and they can be used to improve the representation of health and illness in diverse populations. Jan employs the technical skills as a statistical software polymath gained in these contexts to inform evaluation designs through case-based simulation studies, e.g. for robust sample-size planning in the evaluation of complex and/or multi-site interventions. Besides planning traditional trials in clinical and naturalistic settings, many of Jan's studies contain hybrid elements for example combining epidemiological cohort studies with randomised components or integrating secondary data analysis into studies (e.g., as control groups) to increase the efficiency and sustainability of new primary research projects.


Jan's research is multidisciplinary and collaborative. Jan leads on the quantitative workpackages of several large scale evaluation projects investigating interventions in child and adolescent populations (together with researchers from University College London: Miranda Wolpert and Jess Deighton; University of Manchester: Neil Humphrey; University of York: Louise Tracey). Together with Ulrich Reininghaus (University of Maastricht, The Netherlands), Jan investigates the structure and diagnostic validity of symptoms relating to schizophrenia and affective (depression, mania) spectra. Jan holds a position as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the University of York, where he collaborates on a series of projects exploring comorbidities between diabetes and (severe) mental illness (led by Najma Siddiqi); screening and assessment of alcohol problems in young people (Paul Toner); cost of secondary care for mental illness (Rowena Jacobs); and determinants and correlates of (health-related) quality of life in general population samples (Steve Parrott, Simon Gilbody) as well as cardiac rehabilitation (Patrick Doherty).

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