Research in Action December 2015

Leading the Way with Applied Research at ServiceNet

Evidence-based practice is built one data point at a time. And for the past 20+ years, ServiceNet’s clinical team has been engaged in training staff, implementing proven practices, and collecting data for the express purpose of contributing to the field in a meaningful way. It is one of the few behavioral health agencies in the nation to have an actual Applied Research Department – with projects ranging from internal quality assessment studies to collaborations with academic researchers at area universities and medical schools.

Getting Started

ServiceNet’s commitment to research began soon after Marsha Linehan’s work on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) was published in 1993. Jim Frutkin, ServiceNet’s Vice President for Clinical Services, who was then a program director, pulled together a team of clinicians to study, implement and evaluate the approach. They were interested in both the short- and long-term impact of this new therapy, and designed their evaluation accordingly. Now, more than 20 years later, the clinical team is collaborating with Dr. Len Doerfler at Assumption College to further assess DBT’s effectiveness. And DBT is just one example of the clinical approaches that have been systematically applied and evaluated by ServiceNet’s clinical staff over the past two decades. Others have included Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Seeking Safety, and Integrated Dual Diagnosis Treatment (IDDT).

In 2004, primed for research and recognizing the value of quick access to data for a broad range of applications, ServiceNet became the first behavioral health agency in Massachusetts to use an electronic health record (EHR). In addition to providing clinical staff with important support in their work with clients, the EHR has generated demographic and diagnostic information that helps inform program leaders’ quality improvement and service development efforts. For instance, by tracking age, gender, diagnosis and town of residence through the EHR, they have identified a number of opportunities for group therapy, which in many cases is more effective as well as more efficient and less costly than individual counseling. As a result, ServiceNet now has 34 active therapy groups – another valuable outcome of applied research.

Taking It Further

While computer applications assist both internal and external research, those who design and implement the studies determine which data elements will yield the best information over time. In 2009, Jim Frutkin hired Jen Geertsma to serve as Director of Applied Research for the Clinical Services Division. One of Jen’s first projects was to collaborate with Dr. Thomas O’Hare, at Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, on implementation of O’Hare’s Psycho Social Wellbeing Scale (PSWS) to track outpatient client outcomes. PSWS proved to be a user-friendly tool for clinicians, with a clear summary graph of client progress. Jen then secured approval from the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership (MBHP) to use this tool in lieu of the Treatment Outcome Package (TOP) used by most other MBHP agencies, thereby saving ServiceNet more than $100,000 each year in TOP use fees. The successful collaboration with O’Hare further culminated in an article which he and Geertsma co-authored for Best Practices in Mental Health (July 2013).

In future editions of this newsletter, we will highlight other academic collaborations, and will invite input from those who have participated in various Applied Research projects at ServiceNet. Please let us know what sparks your interest and what you might like to hear more about, by emailing Jen at jgeerstma@service.net

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