Capturing Data Shapes Programs at Home and Spurs Research Worldwide

April 29, 2015

At McLean Hospital, embedding behavioral health research in the clinical setting simultaneously enhances patient care and brings valuable treatment advances to the attention of the scientific community.

Spearheading this unique approach at McLean are Courtney Beard, PhD, who serves as assistant director of research in the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program (BHP), and Jason Elias, PhD, the director of psychological services and clinical research in the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Institute (OCDI). “In all of our research programs, we are dedicated to the idea that any of the data we collect should be valuable clinically, administratively, and scientifically,” said Elias.

Using an innovative and secure web application, Beard and Elias collect and analyze both patient self-reported and clinician data at multiple time points to understand which therapeutic modalities are most effective, and why.

“Our fully integrated approach enables us to measure progress and outcomes in our clinical units for individual patients and also to aggregate the data to investigate trends and report on overall findings,” said Elias. “The feedback leads to quick refinements in our survey instruments and continual therapeutic improvements.”


In the Behavioral Health Program, for example, patients complete standardized, validated measures of their depression and anxiety symptoms online every day. Beard then generates reports that the treatment team can project on a screen during rounds. “They can see right away if a patient exhibits any suicidal thoughts or drug use, or whether his or her depression is spiking—and act on it,” said Beard.

The scientists’ assessment goes very deep, targeting the mechanisms driving change, such as the willingness to undergo exposure and response prevention therapy in the OCDI, or the ability to increase one’s activity level in the BHP. Clinical trials that are being done at McLean, such as computerized treatment encouraging a more positive interpretation of ambiguous situations, add experimental protocols to the data pool.

Since Thröstur Björgvinsson, PhD, director of the BHP, started the clinical research program in 2010, over 20 papers have been published based on its clinical data. “The BHP and OCDI epitomize McLean’s mission by creatively integrating the hospital’s aim—advancing patient care, research, and education,” adds Beard. “The rapid back-and-forth between those aims informs not only how we develop our programs but also how we influence theories and treatments of these disorders worldwide.”

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