Outcomes in behavioral health treatment have become necessary to track, as programs that can show better results stand to get better funding now and in the future via more clients, more contracts and higher reimbursement rates. It is also a part of many licensing and accreditation protocols. However, the idea that there can be standardized outcomes monitoring across wide sections, such as substance use difficulties, will likely never materialize. This is simply because too many people have too many opinions about how and what to measure. I happen to be a fan of outcomes that are more focused on the quality of life rather than how many specific use episodes and what substances.
Lots of providers feel they have the best treatment available, which is great. They should be that confident in their methods, but they should also recognize that they may not be right for all people, and that something else can be equally effective.
While many professionals who are far more educated and trained than I am would like to claim that one or more therapeutic and medical interventions combine to make the most effective treatment, I have a different argument. I have worked with dozens and dozens of facilities throughout the country in different capacities, and witnessed all of them produce results, and all of them fail. Which brings me to my point: the two most important factors in recovery are the person having a sincere desire to change and truly believing that the course of treatment they have chosen will help them achieve their goals. Yes, I realize there are exceptions, but hear me out.
Let’s take a young man who is addicted to alcohol, marijuana, benzos and opiates. If he buys into the idea that he must always treat his condition with an opioid replacement drug, potentially one or more other prescriptions, and therapeutic sessions with a clinician, then he is automatically going to do better in that environment than someone else who is there for the same substances but thinks he should go an abstinence route instead. The reverse is true as well. This same juxtaposition can be applied many different ages, substances, secondary disorders and treatments, I believe. But, if you don’t have the first two elements in place, then the chances of achieving successful long term recovery are reduced significantly.
Our field will continue argue and point fingers at each other until the cows come home as long as they hold on to judgmental attitudes that other programs just aren’t effective, or aren’t clinically-based enough, aren’t medically-based enough, aren’t abstinence-based enough, aren’t spiritual enough, etc. The truth is there is something out there for everyone, and just because someone finds success elsewhere, it doesn’t make your program any less effective.
So, in addition to improving outcomes through longer term care, peer support, better clinicians and therapies, updated technology, etc. (all of which ARE of course factors and very important), if we focus some more time on the front end and educate potential clients more about the therapies that are used at our facilities and to get them to truly buy into the programs, they will be much better off and outcomes will improve. Back it up with factual information to support why you built your program the way you have, not just theory or hyperbolic claims. I know that a lot of people are skeptical, and that’s fine, but I have personally witnessed, worked with and consulted program operators who do a better job of this and therefore have clients who are more on board with the treatment planning as a whole, which makes them more present throughout program participation and allows the therapies, education and skills taught to have a greater effect.
Marketing and admissions aren’t just about enrollment, they’re about effectively communicating what your program does to help the people who would be ideal clients or patients for you. Done well, you’ll have higher enrollments, better retention rates, longer engagements and, yes, improved treatment outcomes as well.