The Collaborative Pathway is a replication and adaptation of Open Dialogue at Advocates, Inc., the human services agency in Framingham, Massachusetts, where I serve as Medical Director. Last week, our team (Chris Gordon, Vasudha Gidugu, Sally Rogers, John DeRonck, and Doug Ziedonis) published an article in the Best Practices column of the journal Psychiatric Services, describing the program and our results from the first cohort of young people and families experiencing a psychotic crisis.
We provided our services to 16 young people and families over a period of one year. Most have continued to receive services after the study period, so we have more substantial follow-up data than was published in this initial paper. It’s hard to draw many conclusions about Open Dialogue from such a small sample, but I would like to share some of the promising lessons we’ve learned along the way:
- This replication is feasible. We were able to train a full interdisciplinary team in the Open Dialogue model and deliver the services in a way that maintained fidelity to Open Dialogue principles, even in the fractured, complicated U.S. health care system and in a population vastly more diverse than the relatively homogeneous population in Finland.
- We were able to provide the services with an acceptable degree of safety. We did not – thank goodness – experience any serious adverse events such as suicide attempts or acts of violence. We believe that our practice of conducting a full, relatively standard psychiatric assessment including risk assessment at the intake stage of our work – which was an adaptation of, or perhaps actually a departure from, Finnish Open Dialogue principles – may have contributed to this safety.
- We achieved statistically significant improvements
in days of hospital use, hospital admissions, improvement of psychiatric symptoms and improvements in daily functioning, all while maintaining a high degree of collaboration and shared decision making. Since this was not a randomized clinical trial and there was no control group, we cannot say that these outcomes were better than standard care, but we can assert that they were solidly in line with what is hoped for and expected in standard care.
There was a very high degree of satisfaction and endorsement of the model from persons at the center of concern as well as from their families. Most of the people we served had had previous experiences in the mental health system involving more standard approaches, and most individuals and families expressed a strong preference for the Open Dialogue approach. Similarly, staff expressed a high degree of satisfaction with the service. Most felt and feel that this is the best work they have ever done and that if a loved one were experiencing psychosis, that this is the model that they would prefer.
- The Open Dialogue approach led to a wide variety of treatment paths, all arrived at through joint decision making.
Some individuals used the services to find ways of dealing with their challenges with less or no antipsychotic medications, for example, while others used the program to find medications that they found helpful and acceptable.
- This model is expensive. Training must be rigorous; ongoing supervision is essential; the model requires more than one clinician in all network meetings; meetings in the home (which all felt were powerfully preferable to meetings in clinical settings) involve costs of travel; and the costs of research to prove the model works are substantial. We hope, of course, to prove that this model is cost effective over time, by bending the clinical curve away from chronicity, and decreasing hospital days, but, for the time being, most insurance policies do not cover these services.
We still need support to continue this work, and deeply appreciate contributions to The Collaborative Pathway Fund at the Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care.
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Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.