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Data Management and Measurement tools to improve outcomes

The Need for Impactful Outcome Data Has Never Been Greater

A growing number of mental health and substance use treatment organizations are taking to heart the adage from the late management guru Peter Drucker: “What gets measured gets managed.” In an increasingly integrated and highly demanding health care environment, providers no longer can rely on instinct or anecdote to demonstrate the success of their programs. Reliable, actionable outcome data are the fuel necessary to achieving the improved quality of care that patients and their families deserve.

Professional associations are taking the lead to guide members in demonstrating the effectiveness of their care. For example, the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) established its Foundation for Recovery Science and Education (FoRSE) to facilitate the use of data to improve substance use treatment. Participating providers are sharing de-identified patient data for use in a centralized national database. The foundation is using this data to create individualized benchmarking reports that allow providers to make reliable comparisons of their patients’ data to national averages.

NAATP’s chief executive, Marvin Ventrell, reported at the start of the year that 60 of the association’s member treatment providers are submitting data on patient intake, patient activity during treatment and patient reporting of progress post-treatment. Sometime in the first quarter, NAATP expects to be ready for public release of an analysis of aggregated data, with participating facilities remaining anonymous.

“All roads run through data,” insists Ventrell, who explains that some of the questions to be answered are as basic but as important as, “Who are our patients?” Ventrell sees having the capacity to collect data on treatment efficacy as essential to the behavioral health field being fully accepted into the mainstream of health care.

Aggregated data from these NAATP programs also will offer new insight into how certain clinical approaches to treatment perform when they are integrated into comprehensive systems of care. Payers, policymakers and the general public all will be important recipients of the information NAATP and its members have to share.

Among the core values that are articulated in NAATP’s strategic plan are authenticity, integrity, evidence, innovation and proficiency — all of these are connected to having the data necessary to guide the pursuit of excellence in care. As the description of FoRSE’s work states, “The future of addiction healthcare lies in our data.”

Other groups that work with substance use and mental health providers are also finding that collecting and analyzing accurate data can ultimately result in concrete improvements in patient outcomes. Vista Research Group was launched in 2015 to help demonstrate the effectiveness of substance use treatment. Its work focuses on the degree to which patients are able to maintain abstinence from substance use post-treatment, a high standard of performance.

Providers participating in Vista’s outcome research have come to find that what gets measured does indeed get managed. Among the first 17 programs to track outcomes for more than a year in the Vista project, 14 were able to see better patient outcomes in year two than in year one, under the strict standard of abstinence as the primary patient outcome.

Vista states on its website that while the overall results are offering sound evidence that treatment works, it is also disappointing that the results have not improved greatly from outcomes that were reported in federally funded treatment outcome research from the 1990s. Clearly, the provider community still has a long way to go in identifying what to measure and how to use the resulting data to guide clinical and organizational improvement.

The need is more urgent than ever, as old stereotypes about the value of mental health and addiction treatment services still linger in too many policy-making circles. Even among many general medical providers, there remains some hesitancy to embrace the mission of helping the whole patient, when that requires addressing patient mental illness or problematic substance use. The only effective antidote to stigmatizing biases that hinder progress is factual information. It is the responsibility of every provider of behavioral health services to step up to the challenge.

To excel in this pursuit, providers need to have the tools to collect data efficiently and accurately, giving them concrete information on which they can act. Sigmund Software has built an EHR platform with these needs in mind, paying particular attention to the multiple demands being placed on today’s addiction and mental health treatment professionals.

We have consistently refined the AURA enterprise EHR software solution to respond to providers’ needs in a dynamic environment. The user-friendly platform is ideal for busy clinicians. Its extensive data reporting tools and embedded analytics help providers evaluate the impact of their treatment interventions.

In an environment where all stakeholders are demanding more of mental health and substance use treatment professionals, the ability to collect and analyze data is essential to demonstrating that an organization is quality-driven. As value-based payment models emerge in behavioral health, having this ability will offer the only viable route to organizations’ clinical and financial success.


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