September 28, 2022

Mental health screening, outcome measurement, and measurement-based care: What's the difference?

Mental health screening, outcome measurement, and measurement-based care terminology are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences in their function, effort, and impact

As a practice owner, you want to use every tool possible to help your clients- which is why you’re looking into how to use data to optimize your treatment approach. We tend to think of data-optimized treatment in terms of the two assessment measures we hear about most frequently- mental health screening and outcome measurements. Each of these has proven invaluable in helping therapists chart a course for clients and gauge their progress.

But what practical value does the implementation of mental health screening and outcome measures hold, and where does measurement-based care fit in the scheme of things? Let’s take a look at the differences between mental health screening, outcome measures, and measurement-based care.

Mental Health Screening

Mental Health Screening’s Core Question: What issues may need to be addressed?

What started in WWII as a way to screen out military conscripts has evolved into a routine practice that represents a cornerstone of quality mental healthcare. The primary purpose of mental health screening aims to direct attention to clinical, social, and/or personal health domains that a clinician should be aware of when treating a client.

In the context of general population screening, assessments such as PHQ-9 and GAD-7 are used by healthcare providers at intake or early in treatment as a quick and easy way to assess new clients for potential mental health problem areas. They’re non-intrusive, inexpensive, and can be used by all types of clinicians to assess every single client.

For mental health professionals, mental health screening represents an efficient, intuitive, data-based approach to treatment planning. By administering brief and focused assessments prior to the start of therapy, clinicians gain a sense of both the nature and scope of the mental health concerns clients are bringing with them.

Benefits of integrating mental health screenings into your practice include:

  • A streamlined intake process, where therapists can quickly focus on flagged areas rather than having to examine every area in depth. 
  • Broad coverage of potential topics so clinicians can feel sure they’re not missing anything
  • Provides clients with a quantitative measure of their symptoms that may otherwise seem abstract to them.
  • Guides treatment plans with a consistent data set

Outcome Measurements

Outcome Measurements’ Core Question: How effective are our treatment services across a population?

While mental health screening is typically the first step in the assessment adoption curve and helps to focus on what to work on during treatment, it doesn’t provide any insight into whether or not treatment is actually working. That’s where outcome measurements typically come into play.

Measuring outcomes consists of administering assessments not just at the start of care, but at critical moments in the treatment journey (i.e., at treatment plan updates and discharge). By comparing average scores when clients enter versus end treatment, mental health organizations can evaluate the actual effectiveness of their treatment services and objectively demonstrate the extent to which clients improve during their time in therapy. 

Even more, as mental health moves toward parity with respect to coverage, reimbursement, and value recognition, the field needs to start playing by the same rules as other areas of healthcare. This means that external stakeholders (e.g., insurance companies, and funding agencies) are increasingly demanding that mental health organizations demonstrate their worth by objectively proving their clinical outcomes and quality of care. In a future whereby demonstrable outcomes will produce higher reimbursement rates, the ability to track and report on client outcomes will be essential. 

Benefits of measuring the outcomes of your practice include:

  • Provides objective insights for program evaluations and quality improvement initiatives
  • Demonstrates to insurance companies and other funding sources that your treatments are working
  • Improves your ability to successfully negotiate medical necessity for extended coverage among clients who need continued care
  • Ensures that your clinic scales with integrity and without sacrificing clinical quality as you grow and hire more clinical staff

Measurement-Based Care

Measurement-Based Care’s Core Question: Is my treatment approach working for a specific client? 

Measuring-based care represents the pinnacle of outcomes data utilization in behavioral health. Screening assessments are valuable for planning treatment, and outcome assessments help reevaluate efficacy - but measurement-based care aims to utilize the planning and evaluation power of client feedback data at every point in the therapeutic journey.

Measurement-based care is first and foremost a clinical tool. Data is gathered at regular intervals, discussed in the therapy room to help both client and clinician conceptualize progress, and put to use to guide new directions if indicated.

Because measurement-based care includes screening and outcome assessments, it eliminates the need for additional systems to gather intake measurements or prove therapeutic outcomes.  

That means that the benefits of implementing measurement-based care include all those listed above, plus it:

  • Improves client outcomes
  • Enhances the therapeutic relationship
  • Directs in-treatment conversations and clinician questions
  • Increases client engagement in treatment services

So...are you ready to start practicing measurement-based care? Try 30 days of Blueprint for free by signing up for your free trial!