Five Tips for Developing Effective Client Outcomes

Have you ever set sail without knowing where you would land, or started a road trip unsure of the final destination? Of course not! You might not plot out each stop along the way, but you need a clear understanding of the journey’s end. Knowing the destination is the first step in planning a trip. Likewise, developing constructive client outcomes is the first step in creating a treatment plan. 

Before starting any behavioral health intervention, clinicians must select outcomes. These represent the significant destinations in your client’s journey. They are measurable changes in behavioral health and quality of life. Clear, specific, measurable goals are the backbone of any good treatment plan. Let’s look at five best practices for selecting effective intervention outcomes and why it’s important to use a behavioral health-specific EHR to help you achieve those goals.

1. Focus on person-centered outcomes

The central question is, how will therapy affect the client’s life. Person-centered outcomes address the issues that are valuable to the client. People are more motivated to achieve results that are meaningful to them. Start by finding out what matters to the client. Also, look at the person’s specific situation and history. 

When clinicians genuinely understand the client’s perspective, they work to prioritize client goals. A good outcome statement creates a description of what success will look like for the client. Likewise, identifying obstacles helps create a clearer path for the journey. Exploring what is essential for the individual helps develop meaningful, person-centered outcome measures. 

2. Aim for socially-significant change

In behavioral health, intervention outcomes can have a significant impact on the client’s quality of life. When developing effective outcome statements, clinicians should consider social factors such as age, background, and setting. Also, think about what changes will improve interactions with others. Personal behavior that reflects cultural norms in the client’s context can help them integrate with society. Normalization increases long-term access to specific environments, activities, and social interactions.

Consider the example of Anne, a 22-year-old woman with social anxiety. Anne’s treatment outcome involves increased time spent in age-appropriate social settings such as parties and clubs. The clinician can create an intervention plan focused on prerequisite behavior, such as making small talk. Access to culturally typical environments and peers may present opportunities for Anne to acquire new adaptive behavior. 

3. Define observable outcomes

Defining outcomes that are specific, observable, and measurable is essential to any intervention plan. Clinicians must be able to document achievement and communicate it with others. Clients, families, and therapists need to agree on what success looks like. Clearly defining and measuring behavior change lets you know when the treatment is effective. Evidence-based measurements provide noticeable indicators of success. In Anna’s case, an outcome of increased time in social settings is both observable and measurable. Outside observers could perceive and measure her amount of time spent with peer groups each week.

Sometimes, the client may have multiple desired outcomes at one time. Each specific topic needs separate statements defining the change and how it will be measured. Clearly defined outcomes let clinicians accurately assess client progress. Therapists can use these statements to get a better understanding of the effectiveness of treatments and interventions. 

4. Stay relevant and timely

While focusing on the big picture, also remember to keep it timely, relevant, and achievable. Clients may view irrelevant results as a waste of time. Or they may see distant goals as unattainable. When developing an outcome, consider if it is  something the client is likely to achieve over the next few months or years. Also, ask if this is something that supports the quality of life in the long term.

For example, 42-year-old Yumi struggles with addiction and has difficulty maintaining steady employment. She expresses a long-held desire to be an occupational therapist; however, she never finished her degree. While becoming an OT may be something Yumi achieves someday, a more timely and relevant outcome would be getting accepted into an OT program at her local university. These outcomes may be adjusted later as needed.

5. Review client progress

An EHR helps you track and evaluate progress so you can adapt treatment as needed.The person-centered team should meet for regular progress reviews, using the outcome statements and treatment plan as a framework for communication. Discuss the outcome measures as well as the client’s perceptions of their own progress. Also, give the team time to identify new problems or concerns. You may need to strike outcomes that are no longer relevant, even if the client never achieved them. Sometimes a client’s needs and situations shift.

For many years, the same case manager has worked with Carlos, a young man with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He graduated from high school at age 21 with an alternative degree. At that time, his outcomes focused on acquiring and maintaining meaningful employment. Now he’s 25, and he expresses a desire to live independently from his parents. The case manager works with Carlos’ person-centered team to develop new outcomes, focused around independent living. 

Closing Thoughts

A high-quality behavioral health EHR allows clinicians to develop, monitor, and track outcomes with their clients. The EHR must be user friendly, make it easy to navigate within the patient chart, and should help, not hinder, your ability to create well-developed intervention outcomes that are person-centered, socially-significant, measurable, and relevant. These indicators are the roadmap to effective behavioral health interventions and improved quality of life for clients. Before starting a treatment journey, decide on a destination that will guide your goals and objectives along the way.

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