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  • Lindy Backues

The Need For Community-Driven KPIs In Behavioral Health

Updated: Aug 1

There is a surprising lack of community centered KPIs (key performance indicators) currently monitored by the US healthcare system in terms of treatment in the recovery sphere. The current approach on offer leans heavily on a professionalized model (which represents a problem I will look more deeply at in a coming blog entry), and it relies on an approach limited in scale and high in cost. We have found ourselves wondering what KPIs are concretely (that is, actually and de facto) utilized to appraise success and accomplishment in this sphere. We are of the opinion that true KPI evaluation of what is being accomplished in this field would reveal a system sorely lacking in accomplishment and bloated in terms of cost per beneficiary. That being so, we believe it is high time to turn the current professionalized and exclusive, high-cost model on its head. In fact, at Sober Sidekick, we have had this goal in mind for a long time, ever since we first began developing our gamified sobriety platform and the smart phone application design that serves as its central feature. We believe that – once concrete, truly relevant KPI measures for this field are identified – our approach can be proved to address real needs of real persons who seek sobriety and recovery by way of connectivity and community.


But one may ask, what would KPIs relevant to this field look like? What are the best key performance indicators in this field? As will become very clear in a moment, we do not believe it should be treatment center check-ins, nor treatment center regimen completions, nor cost per beneficiary spent (as if spending money equals success), nor number of professionalized personnel employed to offer treatment. We take each of these potential ‘KPIs’ to be specious and wide-of-the-mark – they might measure a certain type of activity, but they do not serve as reliable indicators of the type of success we are after. Oddly enough, to the degree we can help persons who seek sobriety avoid dislocating their lives, avoid checking in for expensive stays at treatment centers, and avoid relying on costly professional services, and yet still help them achieve their own sobriety goals, to that degree too will we achieve our goals: recovery and sobriety and connectivity experienced by those we serve (we still must emphasize: we do not eschew professional help or the use of treatment centers – sometimes these ARE necessary. We simply feel these measures should not constitute the backbone of effective treatment approaches in the recovery field. By themselves, they do not bring about healing, recovery, and connectivity)


So, what could or should our KPIs look like? How might we most effectively measure success as we come alongside persons hoping to achieve recovery in the face of addiction? At Sober Sidekick, we have settled on some alternative KPIs that lean on an analytical tool often utilized in the business world, one encapsulated in the acronym SMART. SMART Goal KPIs are frequently summarized as objectives that are:


  1. Specific,

  2. Measurable,

  3. Achievable,

  4. Relevant, and

  5. Time-Bound


One of the valuable features of this simple tool is that it helps to eliminate generalities and guesswork, since SMART Goals help us set a clear timeline, making it easier to track actual concrete progress by identifying our achieved or even our missed milestones.


A SMART-goal template statement looks something like this:


Our goal is to [specific, quantifiable objective] by [timeframe or deadline]. [Key players or teams] will accomplish this goal by [what steps will be taken to achieve the goal]. Accomplishing this goal will [result or benefit].


A SMART Goal statement like this can be distilled into what I have long called the ‘key diagnostic question’ for strategic performance and implementation. That question looks like this:


Who will do what, by what date, where, in order to achieve what goal?


Condensing things even more, we can approach this question in this way:


Who? ______________

What? ______________

By When? ______________

Where? ______________

What Goal? ______________


With these questions in mind, we now may ask what the SMART goals are that the current health care/treatment industry use as they seek to assist clients toward recovery and sobriety? How might they answer the key diagnostic question we have identified above? We believe the answers are something like this:


Who?

Professionals (since clients are largely passive and treated).


What?

Patients enroll in a detox/treatment program and let the professionals lead them through recovery regimes.


By When?

According to a certain, specific time frame that is appropriate to the availability of professional facilities, services, and personnel available (whether that be for a week, for a month, or for even longer.)


Where?

At one of the few detox centers available to them (at great cost to someone).


What Goal?

To finish the treatment program (often only to need to enroll again and again as they begin to drink or use again).


And what are the SMART goals that Sober Sidekick embraces in order to assist clients toward recovery? How do we go about answering the key diagnostic question above?

Who?

Sidekick clients, persons collectively seeking sobriety themselves.


What?

Download and log-on to the Sober Sidekick app, and then immediately begin interacting with and supporting other Sidekick members.


By When?

There is no time limit nor deadline, other than deadlines that members set themselves.


Where?

From anywhere, given the backbone of the approach/system is a smart phone, our well-designed, gamified, and user-friendly Sober Sidekick app, and a given user’s desire to connect, to interact, and to maintain sobriety.


What Goal?

To connect with others who are also actively working toward sobriety. This is done by way of members actively and consistently helping other members out of a place of empathy, understanding, and availability. As we have pointed out previously, significant accumulating Sober Sidekick user data confirms there to be a very strong correlation between a user who is able to maintain her or his sober date (the day he/she stopped drinking or using drugs) and the level of her or his involvement in Sober Sidekick activities aimed at supporting others.


Given these SMART goals – and given our answer to the key diagnostic question identified above – what key performance indicators, what KPIs, should we be monitoring?


  1. Number of sessions in correlation to sustained sobriety.

  2. The number of member comments offered to other members’ posts (we have noticed that our healthiest and happiest members are those who have a strong sense of community).

  3. PHQ2 scores – clinical depression screeners.

  4. Changes in member sober dates, i.e., relapses.

  5. User generated content analyses – not only can we identify community themes at scale, we also are able to use these results to measure key social determinants of health.

  6. Member testimonials and comments they offer at the site or elsewhere, whether these be comments of satisfaction or dissatisfaction (admittedly this is merely an anecdotal indicator if left to itself, but it can serve as a significant secondary indicator, alerting us to areas of concern or need for improvement or to valuable program components that we need to maintain or even strengthen).