An Introduction to Evidence Based Practice: Doing What You Know Works

To help explain evidence-based practice, we have recruited the professional experience of Heidi Wale Knizacky, MS, LLP, owner of APPRECOTS, who works as an Applied Research Consultant for Saginaw County Community Mental Health (SCCMHA) and other community human service programs including Saginaw MAX System of Care.

Q: What is "evidence-based practice?"
Heidi: Doing what you know works. It's matching up scientifically tested programs with the needs of an individual and using those methods to help meet those needs rather than using "trial and error" to reinvent the wheel.

Q: Why is it important and what are the benefits?
Heidi: Evidence-based practices have been proven to help an individual reach their goals faster than a trial and error approach. Thus, people get their needs met faster, there are bigger gains, and it is more engaging. When someone is participating in an evidence-based practice that person is often able to see the relevance to their need.

Q: How does an evidence-based practice get implemented, or get started?
Heidi: Measurement is very important. It's important to identify what kind of program or intervention has been researched thoroughly that can meet the need for the population of people you are working with. Also the provider delivering the evidence-based practice needs appropriate training in order to provide appropriate support to the evidence-based practice. This includes the staff, or practitioners, who will be delivering the evidence-based practice to people, as well as the whole organization including administrators, supervisors, etc. As the practitioners are developing their skills in training, they need a forum where they are able to access coaching and other supports to advance their skills. It's also important to incorporate a "check-in" timeline to see if the practitioners are adhering to training and applying the research as intended. This is what is meant by fidelity. Above all, there needs to be a way to track outcomes, or changes, in individuals involved in the intervention. Tracking outcomes allows for measurement to ensure that the intervention is really meeting people's needs.

Q: Is there any concerns or challenges with evidence-based practices?
Heidi: The cost, in terms of finances, energy, and time, can be great up front and there can be an experience of "sticker shock" because of it. Due to the potential experience of "sticker shock," it's important to weigh, or consider, the long term cost-benefit ratio. That is, look into the future to see if the long term gains outweigh the up front costs. Also it's important to make sure you are using a realistic venue to measure the costs vs. the benefits. Sometimes one system may be paying the up front cost and when you look at the long term gains you may see them reflected in another system's outcomes.

Q: What should someone think about when participating in an evidence-based practice?
Heidi: A good assessment is important. A good assessment will include obtaining all their [youth and family] strengths and needs in order to find the best evidence-based practice match. Often when people go to their service provider, they don't necessarily want to share everything up front. This reluctance is completely normal, but to get to the right program - to ensure an accurate assessment – sharing information earlier will help with gains happening faster.

Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
Heidi: If you are looking for mental health services, don't be afraid to ask questions. Think up front about what kind of outcomes you would like from working with your provider, or from the program, and how could or would you measure it. This will help with dialogue with your team to find out if it's really right for you. Also, give it [the evidence-based practice] a little time to work.