Robert Penfold, PhD

“I do comparative effectiveness research designed to improve real-world mental health care.” 

Robert Penfold, PhD

Associate Investigator, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute


Robert Penfold, PhD, is health services research and health policy expert whose work focuses on developing strategies to optimize behavioral health care delivery and patient outcomes – particularly in children and adolescents. His research addresses practical issues such as how to reduce unnecessary use of antipsychotic medications in youth. He is also interested in understanding how cost-control policies change the way clinicians deliver and people use care and how those changes have both positive and negative effects on health.

Dr. Penfold is a co-investigator in the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN), a resource for studies on mental health conditions ranging from autism to postnatal depression. He leads the child and adolescent focus group within MHRN. Dr. Penfold is also investigating reasons why similar patients receive different mental health treatment, such as different medications, depending on where they live or receive care.

Dr. Penfold’s other recent and ongoing projects include:

  • A Targeted Approach to a Safer Use of Antipsychotics in Youth (SUAY), a $10 million, five-year National Institutes of Health study that is developing and testing new ways to support clinicians and families in choosing safer treatments for behavioral disorders in youth age 5 to 17.
  • Automated Outreach for Depression, a National Institute of Mental Health-funded study to decrease premature drop-out from depression treatment.
  • Natural Language Processing to Detect Medication Side Effects, a Kaiser Permanente Washington-funded study designed to better capture adverse side effects experienced by patients taking antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Dr. Penfold has extensive experience gathering and analyzing information from large health databases, including those of Medicare and Medicaid, and the Health Care Systems Research Network’s Virtual Data Warehouse. These data and analyses allow rapid information sharing among Kaiser Permanente Washington and participating sites, which improves patient safety and timely access to effective, cutting-edge therapies.

Before joining KPWHRI in 2010, Dr. Penfold held research and teaching positions at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio; the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority; the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy; and most recently, at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Population Medicine and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute.

Research interests and experience

  • Health Services & Economics

    Comparative  effectiveness; consumer-directed health plans; patient outcomes; costs of chronic illnesses; Medicare and Medicaid 

  • Mental Health

    Children and adolescents; anti-psychotics and anti-depressants; bipolar disorder, and depression

  • Biostatistics

    Space-time surveillance; marginal structural modeling;  interrupted time series analysis



Recent publications

Simon GE, Johnson E, Stewart C, Rossom RC, Beck A, Coleman KJ, Waitzfelder B, Penfold R, Operskalski BH, Shortreed SM. Does patient adherence to antidepressant medication actually vary between physicians? J Clin Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 24. pii: 16m11324. doi: 10.4088/JCP.16m11324. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Franz B, Skinner D, Kerr AM, Penfold R, Kelleher K. Hospital-community partnerships: facilitating communication for population health on Columbus' south side. Health Commun. 2017 Aug 29:1-13. doi: 10.1080/10410236.2017.1359033. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Skinner D, Franz B, Kelleher K, Penfold R. Community perceptions of hospitals and shared physical space: a qualitative study. Cult Med Psychiatry. 2017 Jul 19. doi: 10.1007/s11013-017-9546-7. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed

Simon GE, Shortreed SM, Johnson E, Beck A, Coleman KJ, Rossom RC, Whiteside US, Operskalski BH, Penfold RB. Between-visit changes in suicidal ideation and risk of subsequent suicide attempt. Depress Anxiety. 2017 Apr 25. doi: 10.1002/da.22623. [Epub ahead of print]. PubMed


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