Please Don't Shoot the Messenger!

Please Don't Shoot the Messenger!

Joanna Conti
Originally Posted:


As the field of addiction treatment becomes more data-driven, the response of the innovators driving this change to the results they receive will be instrumental.  With very few exceptions, this will be the first time these leaders will be able to accurately measure the long-term impact of the treatment they’ve been providing and to compare their results to those of similar treatment programs. 

Vista Research Group’s RECOVERY 20/20™ has now reached out to about 1,500 patients after they’ve left addiction treatment, and this number is increasing by several hundred each month.  Since we’re following an identical outreach protocol for every patient, we’re able to accurate compare the long-term treatment effectiveness of different addiction treatment programs. 

I’ve been rereading the book “Power” over the holidays, and have been struck by the similarities between the car industry in the 1980s and today’s addiction treatment world.  Neither industry had an objective way to measure consumer’s perception of quality until an independent research company formed to do so.  What is truly exciting is that J. D. Power’s annual consumer studies led to a dramatic improvement in car quality, reducing the average number of defects per car by more than half between 1987 and 1997.

However, I found the response of many of the car manufacturers to Power’s research results thought-provoking.  Human nature being what it is, almost all companies believe that their products or services are better (if not much better) than average.  Confronted with hard data showing that consumers were dissatisfied with the quality of their cars, the big American car manufacturers universally reacted by shooting the messenger.  Instead of reviewing the results of the J.D. Power surveys of car quality with an open mind, the leaders of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all wasted many years questioning the methodology of the research and pooh-poohing its findings.  The result of this hubris was a transformation in the car market; today, the big 3 have only about half of the 83% market share they enjoyed in 1971.

Which brings me to the crux of my concern -- we can’t afford to waste years not taking full advantage of the ability of outcomes data to improve addiction treatment. 

When addiction treatment fails, people die.

There is a far more productive way to respond to disappointing results than shooting the messenger.  Many of the manufacturers of imported cars (including Toyota, Honda, Mazda and Hyundai) worked diligently to address the problems identified in early J. D. Power reports.   I was particularly inspired by Volvo’s response – when Volvo cars scored 26th out of 34 in Power’s Initial Quality Survey in 1991, Volvo’s CEO didn’t flinch from the facts.  He used the disappointing results to refocus the entire company on quality improvement; five short years later, Volvo’s cars had the lowest number of defects of any manufacturer.

Many of our clients started using Vista’s research in early 2018.  As we issue their first annual reports, we want to encourage our clients to use any potentially-disappointing results as a focal point for improving the effectiveness of their treatment.  However, we are also cognizant of the fact that most of our clients invested in RECOVERY 20/20 primarily to showcase the effectiveness of their treatment to payers and prospective private-pay clients.

We will address this challenge by issuing two different types of reports.  First, we’ll summarize each of our clients’ annual progress monitoring and outcomes results in reports designed to be shared with payers and prospective private-pay clients.  The only comparisons we’ll make in these reports will be to national TEDS-D treatment completion rates (for INSIGHT Addiction’s progress monitoring research) and to post-treatment abstinence rates (for RECOVERY 20/20™).  Frankly, because Vista’s clients include many of the most-respected addiction treatment centers, these reports will almost always paint a very positive picture.

Separately, because the most important potential areas for improvement are often only apparent when results are compared to averages from similar programs, we’ll provide our clients with the norms for the many thousands of addiction treatment patients we’ve monitored to date across the country.  And we’ll create a separate Strategic Analysis report that recommends several potential areas for improvement the client may choose to focus on.  Finally, to help our clients use their results to develop detailed performance improvement plans, we’ll offer a series of Outcomes Summits and Strategic Planning Workshops throughout the year.

As the leaders in the addiction treatment world start using their results to improve treatment effectiveness, treatment programs who are not using progress monitoring and outcomes research will be left further behind.  If you’re ready to embrace the use of data to improve addiction treatment, please call one of our friendly research advisers at (800) 215-3201 ext. 1.

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