Due to the recent opioid crisis, the need for expanded mental health and addictions treatment in the United States is finally being broadly recognized by those outside of the medical community. Only the future can tell whether increased access to care will be a reality rather than just a hope. However, in the meantime, there are things that clinicians can do to improve the treatment they give their current clients. One of the most important things is to practice what’s known as Measurement-Based Care.
What is Measurement-Based Care?
Measurement-Based Care is essentially the use of structured questionnaires to track patient symptoms. For example, someone with depression would regularly take a questionnaire to measure their mood and emotions, to determine whether they are improving or not. This is like your doctor taking your blood pressure or weight, to objectively measure how you are doing.
Why is Measurement-Based Care Important?
Mental and emotional health is, by its nature, more complex and “messy” than some other fields of medicine. Since there isn’t a blood test to determine how you’re doing emotionally, it’s important that your provider uses validated, objective measures to track your progress. While clinicians do their best, they aren’t always able to detect subtle changes in mood, and sometimes may forget to ask certain questions. Structured assessments can help in this area.
Does Measurement-Based Care Actually Help?
In a word, yes. Research on measurement-based care has shown:
- Greater Improvement: According to one study of individuals in a behavioral health clinic, patients whose clinicians were receiving patient-reported symptom rating scale data showed 28% greater improvement after 6 weeks compared to those whose clinicians weren’t receiving feedback.
- Higher Response Rates: Another study showed patients receiving psychiatric treatment for depression were able to achieve higher response rates and faster remission when treated with measurement-based care methods compared to usual care.
- Better Outcomes: In a literature review of 21 studies focused on various specific disorders (e.g. depression or anxiety), 76% showed better outcomes for patients receiving measurement-based care, compared to patients whose therapists did not receive symptom rating data.
So What Do I Do?
If you are currently in treatment with a therapist, you can simply ask your provider how they are tracking your symptoms and progress. Ask how you will know when you are getting “better” and how “better” is defined. If you have not yet started treatment or are considering starting to look for a provider, you can make it part of the questions you ask any prospective therapist. “How will you track my progress? How will we know if therapy is working?”. Often therapists are reluctant to use measures because they worry that clients will find them time-consuming, but if you clarify your preferences at the outset it can make for a more successful therapy relationship later on.