Standardization: It's Good for Quality and for Your Bottom Line
The idea that individualization is at the core of any successful autism treatment plan is something we can all (pretty much) agree upon. After all, “if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism”. And, in your role as the treatment provider, you carefully assess each client in order to create a personalized treatment plan to address that client’s individual deficits, behaviors and/or issues.
So with each treatment plan being “unique”, how can a standardization plan be implemented to streamline work flow, processes and reporting? And, why should you strive for standardization at all?
Autism treatment providers, like other practitioners, do not work in vacuum. They answer not only to their clients and their clients’ families, but also to funding sources. Furthermore, they often work in teams or in collaboration with several providers (sometimes all under the same roof and often not).
Standardizing the methods of communication and the content of those communications can improve both their quality and cost effectiveness.
Standardization as a quality improvement mechanism: The creation of standard formats for gathering/sharing/reporting information is a means to ensure that essential information is included. It is also a way to ensure that the essential information is included regardless of who is “doing” the gathering/sharing/reporting. Much like “generalization”, standardization (when properly implemented) is a way to achieve consistent results across people and environments. In other words, the successful implementation of standardized formats will yield the same (desired) results regardless of who has completed the task.
Standardization as an efficiency/cost effectiveness mechanism: The use of standardized formats (e.g. forms, templates, etc.) to share information, as opposed to the creation of a new and unique document at each instance, saves time and time is money. Furthermore, with the passage of time, the use of the standardized tools gets much speedier results as users get more and more accustomed to what it entails. Though there is an initial investment in time and resources to create the standardized formats that will meet your needs, in the long run, they will reduce the time required (= dollars spent) to get the job done properly the first time.
The implementation of standardized data collection, sharing and reporting formats does not preclude the incorporation of individualized, case specific information, nor does it demand that the same format be applied to all consumers of the information. In other words, the format you use to report on a client’s progress to a funding source need not be identical to the format used for a parent report. However, the creation of standard formats for both the funding source and the parent will ensure that each receives the information they require for their unique purposes.
What can be standardized and what should be included in each tool is based on such factors as the recipients’ needs and requirements, your own clinical methodologies, and the purpose of the tool. Many of the basic components will appear in all of your standardized formats (e.g. client name, age, diagnosis, provider name, dates of service, etc.) while others will only be included for a specific consumer (e.g. billing codes, rates, etc. for funding sources).
Don’t expect to succeed in arriving at your final format straight away. Create a first draft and give it a whirl. Take both user and consumer feedback into account as you work to improve upon your initial effort.
And remember, standardization does not mean remaining stagnant; update your standardized processes, documents and formats as your practical and clinical needs change, as the environments in which you work evolve, and as your consumers’ demands change.