Originally posted as a guest article on Circle Social’s Blog
By Joanna Conti, CEO
Vista Research Group, Inc.
I read Nick Jaworski’s thoughtful article Succeeding in 2020: The Opportunities & Growth Drivers for Treatment Providers with great interest. As Nick points out, the addiction treatment programs that survive the current shake-out in the industry are going to be those that provide clinically-superior treatment, strategically differentiate their programs, and develop effective ways to work with (not against) payors.
Outcomes research, both during and after treatment, is the key to achieving each of these goals.
Tools for Providing Clinically-Superior Treatment
Academic research has shown that the process of monitoring how patients are feeling during treatment helps patients get better faster, particularly those hard-to-treat patients who are struggling. While clinicians have a tendency to assume their patients are continuing to improve, a simple graph makes it obvious when a patient’s progress has plateaued and a change in treatment plan might be appropriate:
Centers using INSIGHT Addiction™ to monitor their patients have reported several additional benefits. One company operating multiple locations has found that the process of screening all incoming patients identifies previously-undiagnosed co-occurring disorders in 30% to 40% of their patients. Another mid-sized program offering the full continuum of care reports that the alerts their clinicians receive when a patient is feeling suicidal have allowed them to save the lives of three patients in the last 21 months.
Additionally, paying attention to the frequency with which patients submit update surveys along with the type and quantity of their comments allows treatment teams to identify about 80% of the patients at higher risk of leaving AMA early enough to try to intervene.
Effective Use of Data to Continually Improve
In addition to using individual patient data to optimize treatment plans, aggregating patient data by program, by clinician, and by time period provides a wealth of useful information about a center’s patient population and the effectiveness of the treatment they’re providing:
Managers can compare their program’s results with the Vista Research Network norms published in Learnings From Three Years of Addiction Treatment Outcomes Research to identify opportunities for improvement and develop informed strategic action plans. As one example, if a higher percentage of a program’s patients are still reporting moderate to severe levels of PTSD symptoms at discharge compared to Vista norms, they might consider beefing up their trauma-informed care program. Alternatively, if this is a problem for only one or two clinicians, additional training might be a better solution.
Additionally, a quick review of patient comments for a program whose satisfaction scores are low can identify issues that can be relatively easily fixed, such as group therapy sessions that have become repetitive.
How Outcome Data Helps Attract More Patients
The availability of during-treatment and post-treatment outcomes data also allows you to effectively differentiate your program and attract more patients. The addiction treatment programs that thrive in the 2020s will be those who can believably answer the crucial question – “what is your success rate?” -- that patients and families looking for treatment want to know.
As the number of centers bragging about their Excellence in Treatment awards or publishing their post-treatment success rates grows, consumers will start assuming that a program that isn’t advertising their success rate isn’t very effective.
To further differentiate their program, centers can focus on specific types of patients and share their treatment completion rate and post-treatment outcomes for this group. One center, for example, had a large percentage of patients whose primary drug of choice was heroin or opiates. When they shared on their website that their post-treatment abstinence rate for this type of patient was higher than Vista’s national norms, they started attracting more patients than they could easily handle.
Using Data to Work More Effectively with Payors
Having independent verification of post-treatment success rates allows programs to argue more effectively for in-network status, higher reimbursement rates, and possibly, a value-based performance bonus. The reduction in expensive medical interventions reported by a center’s patients can be particularly useful in making a financial case to payors:
Additionally, patient progress data on co-occurring disorders, cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and suicidal thoughts can be very useful in making the case for more days during utilization reviews.
Over the next few years, monitoring patients during addiction treatment combined with post-treatment outcomes research is going to become the norm. What many managers forget to take into account is that it takes two full years to generate the one-year post-treatment outcomes that payors and consumers want to see. Innovators who embrace this technology ahead of the pack will benefit greatly from having the data to prove to payors and prospective patients that they’re providing excellent treatment years ahead of the majority of programs who continue to postpone investing in outcomes research.