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NatCon16: Improve outcomes with symptom severity measurements

March 8, 2016
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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Timely measurements of symptom severity via M3 or PHQ-9 plus provider-patient collaboration around functioning on DLA-20s can improve outcomes for individuals living with mental illness and addiction. 
According to experts at NatCon16, only 18 percent of psychiatrists and 11 percent of psychologists routinely administer symptom rating scales to monitor patient progress. Measurements can act as a linkage throughout an individual’s entire treatment plan into recovery and provide important patient data. 
"Often patients don’t want to be a burden,” said John Kern, chief medical officer, Regional Mental Health Center. "You can miss when people are slowly deteriorating, but this can identify problems that may not have been [picked up on].”
Administering regular ratings can help fine-tune individual treatment, said Kern. They can also help patients understand their disorders better and allow them to better self-manage.  
The Kennedy Forum encourages measurements during every session to help track progress and signal when to step up treatment. When utilized well, expected recovery is sooner. Kern said it used to take up to 72 weeks for half of his patients to have a treatment response. When implementing rating scales along with pay-for-performance, it cut median time to treatment response in half
“You treat to target but you don’t stop there," he said. "You keep moving as long as your patient comes back.” 
Annie Jensen, process change consultant, MTM Services LLC, said best practices include picking a score to use as a referral source among your entire treatment team. Learning definitions associated with each score and being able to communicate them effectively to patients so they understand their treatment roadmap and objectives is also imperative.
“What we want is higher functioning, less symptoms, and to be able to compare across a database," she added.
When Ralph May, chief clinical officer, Community Guidance Center, implemented DLA-20 across all of his patient programs and tracked the data, 57 percent improved emotional communication, ability to manage schedules, and had an overall decrease in suffering.
He said it's important to ensure outcome reliability through proper staff training and to not overlook morale during implementation. 
“Pick something that staff can do collaboratively with the patient that will help their progress, communicate to your staff why it's important, and use it well.”