Guest Post: Small Business at Work to Improve Treatment & Recovery Services

During Small Business Week, we are highlighting a few examples of small businesses working in prevention, treatment or recovery.  Today’s guest blog post comes from the Co-Deputy Directors of NIATx, an organization that helps lower costs and improve effectiveness in the field of mental health care. For more information about Small Business Week, please visit, and join in the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #sbw2012.


Small Business at Work to Improve Treatment & Recovery Services
By: Kim Johnson, MBA, and Todd Molfender, Ph.D, Co-Deputy Directors at NIATx

Kim Johnson, MBA, and Todd Molfender, Ph.D, are Co-Deputy Directors at NIATx (formerly the acronym for the Network for the Improvement of Treatment), a part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Heath Enhancement Systems Studies (CHESS).

The business model for substance abuse prevention and treatment is undergoing a sea change. Prevention has transitioned from a sole focus on school-aged children to a lifespan view that involves community engagement and policy-level initiatives. Treatment is evolving from primarily a grant-funded service to part of the specialty care system within the health care infrastructure.

What do these changes mean for the future of organizations that treat substance use disorders?  First and foremost, we need to think about customer service. Who are our customers, and how do we meet their changing needs and demands?  Second, we must become more efficient.  Fading fast are cost-based contracting systems that encourage increasing costs and reducing units of service. No more can clinical effectiveness and business efficiencies be considered separate and apart.
NIATx is part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies.  We are dedicated to making improvements to the cost and effectiveness of the substance use disorder care delivery system while helping remove barriers to treatment and recovery. At the heart of our work is the research-based NIATx model of process improvement designed specifically for behavioral health care settings to improve access and retention.  Through the NIATx Learning Collaborative, members share innovative ideas with each other via learning sessions, interest circles, and coaching sessions.

Having worked with over 3,000 prevention and treatment organizations, we have learned that efficiency and customer service are actually two sides of the same coin. Addiction treatment providers should offer appropriate medications and effective behavioral interventions, along with ongoing support. As with other chronic diseases, substance abuse treatment should involve addressing acute episodes of illness and providing ongoing monitoring and support.

Substance abuse treatment providers need to develop and improve their billing systems by building the capacity to contract with payers, bill insurers, and Medicaid for services. They should measure and publish outcomes that are of interest to all of their customers—patients, family members, payers, and regulators. These include process measures like wait times and treatment retention rates as well as outcome measures such as reduced use and increased compliance with treatment protocols.

Outcome measures are equally important for prevention service providers.  Companies unable to hire enough job applicants who can pass their drug tests are interested in supporting prevention activities.  The Strategic Prevention Framework developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) consists of identifying goals and measuring outcomes. Prevention activities will be judged by their ability to influence change at the population level. It is essential for prevention and treatment providers to learn about emerging technologies. In addition to ONDCP, SAMHSA, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse are excellent sources to learn of potential changes years before they begin to affect practice.

We live in an exciting time for substance abuse prevention and treatment. The transition presents great opportunities, but organizations will need to rethink all aspects of their business model to thrive in an evolving environment.

Your Federal Tax Receipt