Behind The Care: The Importance of Treatment Outcomes
With a very special guest, our team addresses why it is so important for addiction service centers to collect treatment outcome data in order to truly impact recovery success rates
- Joanna talks about why and how she decided to open up Vista Research
- The positive aspects that have come forward through pursuing Vista Research and collecting outcomes for addiction treatment centers
- Some of the tension Vista Research has come across
- Treatment outcomes are increasing throughout addiction treatment centers that are utilizing outcome data vs. those programs that are not
Over the years of Vista Research being created we’ve shown just what a difference being able to monitor patients during treatment for issues like depression, levels of anxiety, cravings, etc. Vista Research allows treatment centers to monitor that, show it in real-time to clinicians, and that helps patients get better faster. And on top of that once the patients leave treatment we will follow up with them 1, 6, and 12 months post-treatment, and confidentially find out how they are doing so we can provide independently verified real success rates. So that’s what we have been doing for the past 5 years.
alrighty everybody welcome back to another episode of finding peaks um very excited to be here today again i’m uh ceo chief executive officer at peaks recovery centers here in colorado springs colorado and a couple weeks ago i highlighted the fact that i was going to be bringing on an individual who’s an important to this industry in doing incredible work on behalf of the industry and patients alike who have been receiving addiction treatment services and mental health services um over the past few years several years in fact and her name is joanna conte and she joins me today as the ceo and founder of vista research and also the founder of conquer addiction and kind of the way that we’re going to walk through this today vista research represents in in essence um outcomes data for addiction treatment centers um throughout the united states and conquer addiction really represents a platform that can speak to family systems in regards to highlighting treatment centers that are providing efficacious care and and actually providing and putting forward their outcome data for people to view and see those differences and hopefully in that way find treatment that is good for their loved one and not hiding behind outcomes that don’t actually exist for treatment centers so today we’ll focus in on vista research and at another date and time we’ll get into the other side of this ever important um platform that joanna’s created on her and so uh called conquer addiction so welcome joanna to the production today and i think you’re joining us from annapolis maryland correct i sure am brandon it is really a pleasure to be here thanks for inviting me on your show yeah absolutely um you know kind of you know kick starting this we highlighted this from the beginning um but uh vista research is the largest uh outcome um sort of data center across the united states and i think that’s fascinating and how many addiction treatment centers or behavioral health centers in general are you guys supporting i think the last time we spoke was roughly around 60. it’s about 60 companies a lot of those have multiple locations so it’s a lot more different locations than that and we’re in
at least a third of all the states we have centers that we’re monitoring their outcomes for that’s beautiful um and just to kind of put a put a tone to that to think about you know where vista research is at and the significant data that they’re pulling in to be serving you know call it 60 centers across one third of the states with multiple you know treatment um programs involved with that you know we might be talking about hundreds of facilities at the end of the day but across the united states there are over fourteen thousand addiction treatment centers uh serving mental health behavioral health or otherwise in that regard and fourteen thousand minus a couple hundred is a lot of treatment centers not participating in addiction treatment outcomes and before we dive a little bit into you know sort of our frustrations around that but certainly going to speak a lot of positive you know aspects about how all of this works in the end how many treatment centers is vista research serving in the state of colorado at this time all of two people peeks has been doing outcomes research with vista for almost three years now and the other treatment center just started so it’s way too early to have outcomes for them but wonderful well i’m super grateful to be a part of this to be among the one up until recently and i’m glad that there’s more you know getting involved i think there are anywhere from 50 to 80 treatment centers here in the state of colorado so calling on all of you to give joanna a call tomorrow and start taking this seriously because it does matter and i think it will matter and speaking on behalf of peaks recovery centers it has only improved what we’re doing here when we take the data seriously so um you know so with that said um you know what what led you to starting vista research in the first place i had a daughter who as a teenager became a very serious alcoholic she was repeatedly drinking to levels that could have killed her night after night and over the course of many years we kept finding ourselves in crisis situations usually in the er sometimes she was airlifted there and each time it was obvious that i needed to find treatment for her immediately and so i would get on the phone and i would start trying to find good treatment centers and one of the things that was so frustrating was i was forced to rely on chance comments that somebody had made oh you should check out this center or you should check out that center one time it was a comment somebody had made at a picnic six months before saying hey if you ever need treatment again you might try this center so i would call these centers and they would always sound so nice and i would say and what is your success rate and they would invariably say trust us we’re one of the best the good news is we always found really effective treatment and as a result my daughter has been sober now for eight and a half years she’s now exactly i mean we are so incredibly blessed she has a two lovely daughter she has a career that is going gangbusters she’s happily married they have a house and i mean we’re incredibly lucky but it it was luck and when the worst was behind us i said there has to be a way for the families to coming behind us to find treatment centers with the best outcomes and so just as a labor of love i was running another company at the time i decided to create a website called conquer addiction where families searching for treatment could find treatment centers that were proving that they provided excellent treatment so i built this website back in 2015 and was horrified to discover that there were only five treatment centers in the entire us out of that 14 000 that you talked about brandon there were five treatment centers in the entire us who were measuring their post-treatment effectiveness and were willing to publicly share the results and so i thought well i can’t start to promote this website that recommends five centers so it’s instead i said you know i’m going to start talking to a couple of treatment center owners and saying i don’t understand this why aren’t you tracking your outcomes and so i started doing that and enough treatment centers said yeah we want to it’s in our plans for next year we don’t have a clue how to do it that i thought well there’s a business opportunity here and i have an incredibly odd background i’m a chemical engineer by training i’ve started international non-profits i’ve helped launch companies in in japan and argentina and um i’ve run for congress of all things in colorado no less
back in 2004 in the denver area and um one of the things i had done along the way was i taught myself how to program and i’d spent five years running a software company so i could think through how we could cost effectively and accurately measure outcomes research and i thought this can be done so again as a side project as a side hustle i launched vista research group while i was running another company and over the years we showed just what a difference being able to monitor patients during treatment for issues like their depression and their levels of anxiety and their cravings and so forth we can monitor that show it in real time to clinicians and that helps patients get better faster and on top of that once the treatment once the patients leave treatment we will follow up with them 1 6 and 12 months post treatment and confidentially find out how they’re doing so that we can provide independently verified real success rates and so that’s what we’ve been doing for the last five years fantastic well thank you for bringing that all to light and didn’t know about the politician thing that’s really exciting as well too not really i’m a reformed politician very happy to be back in the business world we’re gonna we’re gonna have to have coffee to talk about that later i’m curious now um but uh so you know kind of just to you know share with the audience what it’s like to for this data as it as it’s being provided in real time within a treatment episodes you know in essence for us we set them up with a laptop and they run through surveys um each patient on a weekly basis just kind of reporting different metrics for how they’re feeling and one of the things that you know to when you know joanna talks about real time that’s fascinating that we’ve come to know and learn and appreciate here at peaks recovery is that sometimes you can go up to a patient in the morning and say you know ask me hey how are you doing this morning they’ll say something like i’m doing great man fantastic cup of coffee things are great 15 minutes later they’ll sit down and they’ll take the survey and they’ll report suicidal ideation or i don’t feel like living today or these sorts of things and you know for some reason that becomes a safe place for them to put that information to say hey this isn’t working with my therapist i haven’t met the doctor in the last two days and then in real time we get to respond to that it gets flagged in all the data especially if it’s a significant um you know episode that’s happening and we get to meet it in real time so um really cool features of that that real-time focus that she’s talking about where treatment centers can if they’re paying attention to it actually respond in real time to a really distressed patient in that regard so it’s a really beautiful thing that’s operating and not this sort of static thing that’s just to be looked back on in that regard so really cool product in that way again trying to sell other addiction treatment centers to take this seriously because it really can benefit your company culture and your program and provide a significant amount of data to your medical um and clinical teams in real time which i think is fantastic so um moving forward a little bit into the discussion you know now that you’ve got this started you know over the past several years you’ve been focusing and honing in on this data what are some of the positive things you’ve learned since starting vista research um in this regard and i i know we’ve prompted conquer addiction as to a future episode so we’ll just kind of leave it for there for now but um you know what are the positive aspects that have come forward okay so you know your daughter was suffering at a point she’s in recovery now but kind of going back to that time you know there were only five addiction treatment centers with outcome data in that regard so you had to have learned an incredible amount you know between the five and the 60 or so that you’re serving now and what are some of those positive features that have come to light for you in vista research well i think one of the most wonderful things for me personally is i have talked to so many people who are treating patients who are really struggling with addiction who so deeply care about their patients and are doing everything they possibly can to help those patients recover and it’s really been really inspiring to me on a day-to-day basis to talk with so many of the clinicians and treatments and our owners and program managers who really care so deeply about their patients and that has been a really positive experience absolutely and so and and i believe i’ve talked to you about it in the past but you know our we don’t really you know hone in on our slogan here at peaks recovery centers anymore but the original slogan of peaks was a caring recovery and i think that’s exactly what you’re stating there is that when you talk to these addiction treatment centers at least the ones who are invested in the outcomes through vista research they really do care yes and they really do want to see these outcomes improve you know even at you know peaks is a stabilization model right now and we’ve just started introducing our iop but you know in that 45 days you know sometimes you get to see the best of individuals and you know see them go from you know pale skin defeated attitudes to having hope at the end of treatment and it’s a really inspiring journey but this is the point of outcomes right we’ve got to do more than just care right right yeah monitoring them during treatment it’s very apparent several things first of all we can obvious often identify previously undiagnosed co-occurring disorders that will need to be treated to enable them to fully recover sometimes the fact that they’re dealing with high levels of trauma for example flashbacks about traumatic experiences and stuff that may not be something that they’re willing to share face to face when they first start meeting with their counselor but because they’re filling in these online surveys and we’re asking in in such a way
that it’s easy for them to admit online then that allows the treatment centers to start dealing with those issues from the very beginning and is one of the several ways that this type of research helps patients get better faster during treatment yeah absolutely and sometimes you know i think one of the major benefits to peaks as well too especially when we get you know cued in the surveys that something is more disruptive than they’ve revealed to us already you know it can even be at the latter you know period of treatment if we’re a 45 day program maybe on day 36 they highlight when they haven’t highlighted it before actually i’m majorly depressed and i have this disorder and like it and and what it does for us in real time is you know direction of care is just so valuable it shifts the case management from maybe this you know place we are idealizing as part of a you know sort of just a straightforward streamline recovery journey abstinence-based programming maybe 12-step immersion you know dharma model whatever it might be but now we need to take more seriously the mental health condition that’s been revealed and create a different trajectory in that regard so um absolutely helpful and again speaking of that real-time data so um you know kind of putting the bed um those awesome positive features of of your work and what you’ve got you’ve had to have learned some of the negative features of of our industry along the way you know and we’ve talked about it before but you know even at peaks recovery centers i thought yeah vista let’s sign up for that because we are going to crush it in our outcomes like we’re going to we’re going to be 100 we’re going to be the conquer addictions front page of what addiction treatment centers need to do in that regard and then the data starts coming in and it’s it’s kind of a kick in the pants you know it’s it it tells you exactly where you’re at not within treatment but post treatment and that’s where you know to me the data is significant um so there’s some tension in there but you know before i i i go on a tangent about some of that negative tension and what it’s felt like for us you know kind of what are you seeing on your end that has been you know sort of disruptive through your lens and and having so much hope for um good outcomes what have you learned that that’s sort of the the negative features of all of this we have done outcomes research at this point it’s got to be for several hundred treatment centers and realize that every single treatment center started doing outcomes for the same reason that you just said they are absolutely convinced that their outcomes are much better than anyone else’s and they’re hiring us to prove that the fact of the matter is of course that’s impossible and this is an industry that until this time really didn’t have an accurate way to measure their outcomes and what we found is even among these all highly respected treatment centers there’s been a tremendous range of outcomes among treatment centers who have
stayed doing outcomes research for more than a year we’ve seen success rates between 18 and 50 percent of patients who were reachable and said they were abstinent at one year post-treatment for at least the last 30 days so that’s an incredible range from 50 from 18 to 50 the average has been 36 of patients at one year post-treatment who are reachable and who say i have not been able i have not used drugs or alcohol in the last 30 days now that doesn’t mean they didn’t relapse at six months addiction is a chronic disease unfortunately relapse is a terrible thing that happens frequently but if they’re relapse and they have the willpower they have the support system they have the recovery capital to get back into uh recovery we consider that a success and so you know this was this is very interesting information to be able to monitor at different points of time and compare across treatment centers so one interesting piece of learning as i said just to summarize it is that there’s an incredible range of effectiveness even among highly respected treatment centers the second thing that’s been disappointing is that when we published our outcomes research two years ago and again a couple of months ago we’ve now done outcomes research for over 10 000 patients who’ve left treatment at a treatment facility across the u.s i was really disappointed to see that our outcomes in 2021 are exactly the same for the industry as a whole as the last major similar outcomes research that was ever done and get this what would you guess that that last outcomes research was done what year would you guess the last one that was done uh and this isn’t a vista research thing right this is the last industry-wise this is the last similar industry-wide research that was published um well you’ve exposed me here i i want to say that somewhere around the range of like the national institute on drug abuse or uh one of these uh national programs would have done at sampshore otherwise but i want to say 2004 just to throw a year out there 1993.
it has been 28 years since the last federally mandated addiction treatment outcomes research that covered a broad spectrum of patients they had about 4 000 patients and they from from treatment centers across the country and they followed up with them in kind of a similar fashion they found that 36 of their patients were reachable and abstinent at one year post-treatment 2021 36 of the patients are reachable and abstinent at one year post-treatment so that has been a major discouragement and i think the reason why we haven’t seen more progress is not from lack of trying but because this industry has not made the effort to accurately scientifically track their outcomes because until you know where you are you don’t know what improves it and what doesn’t and the most positive thing that we’ve found is that among treatment centers that have done outcomes research for multiple years they’ve been able to use the data that they’re getting from the during treatment and the post-treatment monitoring and outcomes research and there they’ve been able to report that 20 more patients are in recovery six months after discharge in the second year they’re doing outcomes research than the first so just what gets measured gets managed that’s what peter drucker said years ago once you can measure it you can improve it because you can do little you can do little projects you could say well what would happen if we did this and you can measure the impact of that and that is so exciting to me that be from for an investment of frankly 26 000 on average with the treatment centers that were in this most recent research they spent 26 000 a year total on research and 20 percent more patients were in recovery in year two small costs for a significant uptick in contributions right i mean year over year i mean that’s what it’s about and i think you know exploring peaks recovery centers you know three years ago in our data you know we’re below that average and now we’re you know above that average now um at this time and the thing that’s driving that is like okay we have a curriculum like what about this curriculum is not working i mean addiction treatment centers you know this your patients will tell you what’s not working for them in each and every moment they will show you their disgruntled uh ness in those in those real time moments and so you can take the data then and explore within your curriculum what’s not working and like joanna said create these you know intimate projects right innovation how do we change week one you know if it’s not working compared to week six to inspire people differently the goal isn’t to go from 36 percent to 86 percent that would be unreasonable right there’s no cure that we’re going to locate in here but if we can incrementally move the needle in a positive direction it’s can it can be really you know quite powerful and you know joanna you kind of stole my next question there you know do you see things trending upward or not and it sounds like from 1993 to now things have been flat but if you are an addiction treatment center that’s at least participating in this data from what we know your outcomes are incrementally improving upwards and that’s an advantage not only in the market but above all an advantage to the patient demographic that we serve each and every day and you know at the end of the day you know i guess i want to say something about you know the business model of addiction treatment centers buyers don’t have a lot of say in their participation in treatment their life’s falling apart mom and dad you know generally family of some sort scrambling in the background to find addiction treatment like you said joanna you know as it goes taking tidbits and advice from other people and then the seller at the end of the day the insurance company and so forth don’t have a lot of say once addiction treatment centers get authorization for dates of service and because the buyer and seller don’t have a lot of say in this it comes there’s a great responsibility for addiction treatment centers to behave properly within that mix because the other two sides don’t have market advantages in the way that addiction treatment centers do so there’s a real powerful thing there that’s you know taking place and by participating in outcomes you are taking seriously and acting responsibly towards the patient demographic that we serve and over time we get more and more people well and that’s what joanna’s saying about you know the outcomes at least for those participating in this so um because you stole that bullet point we just rehashed it you know to the next to the next question if you could demand one thing from the addiction treatment industry at this time what would that be do the outcomes research monitor your patients during treatment use those results to help them get better and please start measuring your outcomes you don’t have to do it through vista research group you can do it wherever but please this is so important yeah it’s the only way the industry is going to continue to get better yeah and i you know and i just want to add to that too i know it’s easy for you know people to think okay well of course outcome you know research data company wants more people to participate in outcome research data but we’re talking to a not-for-profit to be absolutely clear here at the end of the day this isn’t about big dollars for joanna this is about uh giving back um to the community and patients within addiction treatment centers in a big way and they are deserving of better outcomes and for us to be innovative as an industry and charge forward in a big way so hear that clearly folks and you know finally with the predicted shortage of addiction treatment counselors swiftly approaching in in the year 2030 you gave me that data set and i was able to read through it it looks like by the year 2030 we’re going to have less psychiatrists in this industry due to retirement less people going into school maybe doctors are chasing the big paycheck and anesthesiology and not psychiatry who knows we can only speculate but also i think there’s going to be a shortage of about 15 000 addiction treatment counselors at that time primarily counselors who can serve addiction and mental health as a patient demographic so this industry isn’t um it’s it’s only going to continue to face you know more significant challenges in that regard and so how can addiction treatment centers in their families best prepare for this you know in your view and if if we’re going to have fewer counselors i mean we already have fewer treatment slots than we need we know that for some patients it’s really hard to find a bed when they need it and unfortunately this is this is a disease that if somebody is willing to go into treatment right now and you don’t have a bed right now and you have a bed tomorrow it might be too late they may very well change their mind or they may have overdosed in in the meantime i mean this is this is all really awful stuff i mean we we are seeing overdose rates going continuing to absolutely skyrocket and things are just the cove pandemic made things just so much worse so if there’s a there is already a shortage of really quality treatment centers and there’s a shortage of quality treatment counselors addiction treatment counselors it’s only going to get worse so it just is critical that we use every possible tool that we can to make the treatment as effective as it possibly can be absolutely and and so ultimately too what i would love to leave the viewers that before we sort of you know transition into the you know the kind of the final thoughts here on the episode is that um it is through outcomes as as a as a data set or of those data sets that’s going to lead us into the future and hopefully become a less fragmented industry i know many of you have joined finding peaks in the past and throughout all of our episodes have heard me say that a lot outcomes is a way to unify this industry to get away from the hyperbolic statements of a caring recovery and those sort of features because for as much as we care we can do more in the direction of outcomes and improving uh quality of care in that regard at the end of the day so you know with that said i do kind of want to transition into a future opportunity here a little bit away from vista research and do conquer addiction and we don’t have time today to necessarily launch fully into it but i would love to bring it back because conquer addiction check it out everybody uh joanna you can give us the link to it and everything as well too and we’ll make sure that’s available to everybody to start viewing prior to us getting to that episode but that where vista research again works for addiction treatment centers and outcomes to approve over time those outcomes are then taken and highlighted in conquer addiction and that is a place where families you know looking for efficacious treatment episodes can discover that and again it’s a not-for-profit platform it’s extremely inexpensive for addiction treatment centers to participate and who have outcome data and hopefully that can be a continued resource and advantage to people searching for episodes but i think before you know we exit here we we want to caution the consumer about calling in an addiction treatment center and hearing oh we have 80 outcomes or 98 outcomes there’s sort of these absurd numbers that are launched in um you know energized admission treatment cultures i to me personally um i don’t think it’s i don’t i don’t think i want to say it just because peaks isn’t a 98 outcome treatment center um but that just can’t be true right and it’s not and it’s not i mean it that is part of what the industry has really done to shoot itself in the foot just because there have been some bad actors out there that have been making bogus claims and you know advertising on tv about you can walk out in 30 days and be cured and stuff and and i realized that those bad actors are a tiny percentage of the industry but they have tainted everything and when you i have personally had treatment center owners tell me they had 98 success rate 90 85 it’s all nonsense i mean what did that mean that that person was not using the instant they step foot out of the out of the treatment center i mean having monitored 50 000 plus patients in addiction treatment over the last five years i can tell you that only 40 percent of those patients are in treatment for the first time unfortunately this is a devilishly hard disease to recover from and as much as i wish it were different a lot of people will need more than one episode of treatment my daughter needed three serious residential treatments multiple iops sober livings over a five-year period it worked in the end but it wasn’t a one-and-done type thing i really hope every other family out there does have a one-time success and and their their loved one is able to stay sober forever after but that’s not typical so we need we we’ve taught as an industry we’ve taught families not to believe the things that they’re told from treatment centers we’ve taught them that some treatment centers will say they have 80 percent success or 90 success families know that’s not true it’s not realistic and so i think what it’s really important is for the industry to start really focusing on truth and sharing independently validated research results that has been scientifically collected i mean guys this is health care right this is this is really important can you imagine going to your doctor with hypertension and not having him follow up with you six months a year later to see how your blood pressure is i mean we have to start treating addiction like the illness the disease it is and measuring what works and doing more of what works and stopping doing what isn’t effective that’s my plea i’ll get off my soapbox now all right i’m i’m so grateful that we had this time together um to speak about um you know outcomes in that regard and in it and i look forward to a future episode with you let’s make it a thing let’s get conquer addiction on the map as well too and and talk out loud about it because it’s an important feature of this aspect it’s one thing to get the data it’s another to reveal the data um in the honest approach in that way and calling on all addiction treatment centers to participate in this uh to the benefit of the patients um that we serve at the end of the day otherwise we’re just making stuff up like a hundred percent of the time uh you know uh our outcomes are 100 of our patients are in recovery 36 of the time right is what we do when we’re speaking hype in that hyperbolic admissions energized sense and it just doesn’t need to be that way and i i recognize that with you joanna we’re talking about a very small fraction of addiction treatment programs you know who um you know taint the waters in a way that you know is not appreciated on behalf of patients and the industry itself but um there are a lot of addiction treatment centers in that regard that do care that are just not participating in this and to me you know for me to to them and from you to them um we can care more and we can do the right thing and drive this in a positive direction so um with that said um i just wanna i’m gonna i’m gonna take us out here joanna i know you’re not here in the studio so stick around with me after so uh we can talk a little bit uh more and uh close out here but in closing here at peaks recovery centers um i hope this was a a an episode that was insightful for family systems who might be watching motivational for addiction treatment centers who might be thinking will this really help and will this improve my services 100 from my perspective and what i’ve seen over the last three years engaging in the data does improve outcomes it’s incremental it’s challenging they’re lower numbers at the end of the day than we want to say 80 percent of all people are in recovery in that regard but that’s not a reason to shy away from this um at the end of the day and we believe in it wholeheartedly and i know joanna is doing a wonderful thing for this industry so um moving forward uh looking forward to future episodes here with joanna and on uh i believe chris burns or jason one of them will follow up on the next episode of finding peeks but in the meantime if you got questions thoughts ideas that i can bring forward to joanna for our next episode um with her finding peaks at peaksrecovery.com uh certainly check out uh uh vista research’s platform as well as conquer addiction um in that regard and we’ll provide links in the bio and that sort of stuff um find us on podcast um what are all the kids using these days joanna the facebooks the twitters um instagrams and so forth we’ll be providing more of this insightful information moving forward so thank you for joining us joanna and until next time everybody take care my pleasure thank you brandon