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Lessons from the Use of Vignettes in the Study of Mental Health Service Disparities


Address correspondence to Sheri Lapatin, Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, 120 Beacon Street, 4th floor, Somerville, MA 02143, e-mail:



To examine the development, feasibility, and use of a vignette approach as an important tool in health services disparities research.

Data Source

Interviews with vignette developers and qualitative data from a novel mental health services disparities study that used vignettes in two samples: (1) predominantly low-income parents of children attending mental health specialty care who were Latino or non-Latino White and (2) Latino and non-Latino mental health clinicians who treat children in their practice.

Study Design

We conduct a content analysis of qualitative data from patients and providers in the Ethnic Differences Study to explore the feasibility of vignette methodology in health services disparities research, and we identify lessons learned that may guide future vignette development.

Principal Findings

Vignettes provide a valuable approach that is acceptable to participants, elicits important insight on participant experience and services, and sheds light on factors that can help optimize study design for exploring health disparities questions.


Researchers, clinicians, and others should consider a set of factors that help determine when a vignette approach is warranted in research, training, or for other uses, including how best to address identified weaknesses.