WMU researcher awarded $2.1 million to study evidence-based registers

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of Dr. Stephen Magura, WMU.


KALAMAZOO, Mich.—About 20 national registers are available to help clinicians find and use programs that are most effective in treating behavioral problems such as alcohol and drug misuse.

But how well are they working?

That's the question Dr. Stephen Magura will try to answer in a major three-year project sponsored by a $2.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About the study

Magura, director of the Western Michigan University Evaluation Center, says the registers help clinicians, practitioners and administrators make better decisions about which behavioral programs to implement or expand. These websites disseminate information on evidence-based programs and practices to community behavioral healthcare providers so they can make decisions based on scientific evidence rather than word of mouth, intuition or what other agencies are using.

But nobody has actually studied how well the websites are working for this purpose, at least not until now.

Magura's study will focus on registers providing information on evidence-based programs for behavioral health care, which broadly encompasses alcohol and drug misuse, mental health and child welfare programs. Magura says there are about 20 such registries. About five of those are more focused on systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Then there are roughly 15 sites that actually list and rate the effectiveness of individual programs.

"Of those 15, we were able to recruit 10 to participate in this study," Magura says. "So the purposes of the study are to look at who uses these registers, what they use them for, and do they find the sites are actually of benefit for their purposes, including single-state agency administrators for substance abuse, mental health and child welfare and staff that are responsible for program development in behavioral health care provider agencies."

The study also will delve into state and federal mandates for the use of evidence-based programs in behavioral health care.

The registers are part of a growing trend in the medical and health professions to make decisions based on research evidence, Magura says. From the medical field, that movement has spread to behavioral health care interventions.

"The registers are an innovative way to try to disseminate information about evidence-based programs and interventions," Magura says. "A dozen years ago, there was hardly anything like this happening."

Team effort

The study is titled "Community Utilization of Evidence-based Program Registers in Behavioral Health." Magura has enlisted the aid of researchers at the Developmental Services Group and Rady Children's Hospital San Diego to assist in the study. Collectively they will study visitors to evidence-based program register websites to determine their characteristics, their reasons for accessing the sites and the information obtained or that was sought, but not obtained; the mandates for implementing evidence-based programs by federal and state funding agencies; and key stakeholders of the registers—the program and policy developers in state and private sector provider organizations.

The grant was awarded in mid-August, so the study is in its start-up phase. Magura plans to post preliminary reports during the three-year study and publish a final report and articles when it is finished in an effort ultimately to make the registers more accessible, user-friendly and interpretable.

Magura says the registers serve a valuable role. Program developers and administrators used to have to sift through countless individual evaluation studies to try to determine the most effective programs. Moreover, the research and evaluation field has become more complex, making it difficult for practitioners and administrators, who are not necessarily highly educated in research and evaluation, to interpret study results.

"The evidence-based program registers fill the need as a sort of mediator between the rather complex research base and the practitioners, administrators and clinicians who need the results of that research," Magura says. "So the registers digest the research, summarize it and interpret it and then make it available in a more usable form. We're going to try to see whether the theory behind that is actually panning out."

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