Dr Jan Boehnke
Health Sciences, School of Health Sciences
+44 (0)1382 386424
Before joining the University of Dundee, Jan worked in 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; 2013-2017). 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 "psychometric epidemiology" to shift the focus of mental health research and practice 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. His research today focuses on linking psychometrics and the development of core outcome sets as well as how to evaluate and justify whether two (or more) outcome measures assess the same constructs (e.g., depression, anxiety).
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 how to use computerised adaptive testing and finite mixture models to design and deliver more efficient assessments of patient-reported outcomes during psychological therapies. The thesis received a sponsorship award from Trier University for the outstanding scientific quality of his dissertation, which specifically recognised the focus on practice applications. During this time at the European Center for Psychotherapy and Psychotherapy Research (Trier University, chair: Wolfgang Lutz; 2007-2013), Jan worked as an evaluator on a large-scale evaluation study of outpatient psychotherapy in Germany (https://doi.org/10.1080/10503307.2013.856046); and as a researcher embedded in a University outpatient and training centre he worked on the development and implementation of electronic monitoring and feedback systems. Until today, his work is directly connected to the evaluation and development of clinical feedback and monitoring tools for patient-reported outcomes. 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.
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 palliative care. Since this time, Jan has a keen interest in the regulatory landscape and requirements for studies evaluating health interventions in humans and the use of patient reported outcomes in such studies. A key area of Jan's research activity remains the design of clinical and pragmatic trials evaluating psycho-social interventions.
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 more than 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).
Jan is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Health Sciences and his research focuses on the connections between mental and physical health. Jan uses modern psychometric and statistical techniques to analyse indicators of health. He has specialised in the use of secondary data analyses of service, trial, and epidemiological data and Jan is highly experienced in planning evaluation projects for diverse stakeholders such as charities, government institutions, and industry. His work as a freelance consultant impressed on him how design solutions that consider a range of views increase the quality of the evaluation process and outcomes. Today, his approach to evaluation design is aiming for case-specific and stakeholder-oriented designs that satisfy the evidential needs of the involved parties.
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.
Jan has contributed to securing more than £8 million in grant funding as Principal and Co-investigator (e.g., NIHR, Department for Education, Education Endowment Foundation). These projects span different aspects of mental health and illness, such as multimorbidity across mental and physical health and target adolescent and adult populations. Current examples of his work are:
- Lead for trials methodology for the Department for Education-funded "Education for Wellbeing" programme (ISRCTN17631228, ISRCTN16386254; led by AFNCCF, UK): working with around 370 mainstream primary and secondary schools across England this programme evaluates five pioneering ways of supporting pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.
- Lead for outcome assessment in the NIHR Global Health Research Group "Improving Outcomes in Mental and Physical Multimorbidity and Developing Research Capacity" (IMPACT, 17/63/130, led by the University of York, UK), with particular input to a survey investigating the impact of comorbid conditions on people living with severe mental illnesses (ISRCTN88485933); a cohort study investigating the consequences of the societal response to the pandemic on this population (ISRCTN15571919); and the development of a core outcome set for studies investigating interventions for prevention and treatment of multimorbidity in low- and middle-income countries (COSMOS: https://www.comet-initiative.org/Studies/Details/1580).
- Lead for outcome assessment in the NIHR Programme for Applied Research "Developing and evaluating a diabetes self-management intervention for people with severe mental illness" (DIAMONDS, RP-PG-1016-20003; led by the University of York, UK).
His work is supported by strong links with other institutions. He is Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Health Sciences, University of York (UK) and an Honorary Collaborator with the Anna Freud National Centre for Children & Families, London (UK). His research into health economic aspects of interventions and service provision is supported by a position as guest scientist and lead of the research group "Outcome Assessment and Health Economics" at the Central Institute of Mental Health (Mannheim, Germany); and as co-lead of the workstream "Fragmentation of health care and health care utilization" at the Leibniz Science Campus Ruhr (Essen, Germany).
Jan serves on boards, such as the Education Endowment Foundation's board of statistical analysis plan reviewers and the Data Management and Ethics Committee of the MYRIAD study (Wellcome Trust, 104908/Z/14/Z), which was one of the world's largest trials investigating the effectiveness of a mindfulness training programme in schools compared with normal school provision. Jan serves on the advisory boards of "Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology" (Springer) and "Psychotherapy Research" (Taylor & Francis). He is Co-Editor-in-Chief of "Quality of Life Research" (Springer), an international, multidisciplinary journal devoted to the communication of research related to the field of quality of life in all the health sciences and a key outlet for health-related measurement research and practice (2000+ submissions in 2020; 600k article downloads in 2019).
Originally appointed as a Senior Research Fellow in "Evaluation Design and Research Methods", Jan's research interests remain oriented along a methodology-oriented strand investigating mental health and illness and one focusing on research design questions.
Mental Health and Illness
Jan is interested in transdiagnostic perspectives on mental health and illness. His research programme focuses on three core theses:
- 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. 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.
- 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.
- 'Mental illnesses' are an example of such categorisations, identifying configurations of behaviour and experience 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 psychological wellbeing 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.
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.
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 Koblenz-Landau, 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.