Data is Not a 4-Letter Word: A Clinician’s View of What It Really Is

By: Ken McGill, EdS, LMFT

It is very interesting looking back on my career as a Marriage & Family Therapist. When I first started my career, there were paper files placed upon a shelf, where the ‘paperwork’ was only to be reviewed when there was a chart review for accreditation or sadly when things went wrong. Thinking back, I had courses on theory, statistics, evaluative/diagnostic criteria, and the history of psychology that filled the years in both my undergraduate and graduate schooling. However, I never had a course specifically outlining the specifics of progress notes, assessments and use of data directly supporting connecting to the work itself. 

A Short History of Professional Psychology by the Chicago School

I encourage you to think about your education and training in the field of human services. It is a very interesting introspective journey in answering the question, “Why did I choose this field to work in?” We often ask ourselves this question when things are not going too well. Or those days where you have been challenged beyond belief. If this is not one of those days, I encourage you to stop for a moment and see what answer you come up with. Most likely your answer is similar to mine, “I wanted to help people.” I doubt answers include, “To make a lot of money” or “To complete paperwork” or “Help some people.”

Since I have been asking so many questions, how about just one more. Why did I include the last example of the answer, ‘Help some people’? The reason is that we all know that while some people get better, some do not. Or even some that get worse. Then, an underlying question becomes, “What can we do to help all those we serve?” This then becomes the challenge that we, as helpers, must meet head-on. The way I see it the most effective way to accomplish helping everyone is by examining the data.

Data Analysis Word Cloud

Yes, you heard this clinician correctly. Let’s look at the data. I am not sure why or when ‘data’ became this 4-letter word but is actually made up of 14 letters. Data is the ‘work + technology’ equaling 14 letters (not counting the + sign). This is not just a play on words when you give it some thought. When a clinician is doing their work, they will enter progress notes and other information into the electronic health record (EHR). Most agencies or organizations are now utilizing EHRs to safely store personal health information (PHI). In fact, data often stays so secure that it may not be used in decision-making. 

Health Related Icons

The fact that data is not used in decision-making at all levels, from the direct care level up to organizational or funding levels is mind-blowing. Why? Why not? It makes sense to this clinician that we collect data to learn and share what we have accomplished, especially with those being served. If this is not the case, then the possibility is that we are collecting data for the purpose of just collecting the information. My hope is that it is the former rather than the latter. 

So those who agree with the following statement align with the TCOM Collaborative:

We collect data for the purposes of learning and sharing what we have accomplished, especially with those being served.

A call-to-action is needed where we must collectively share with others who are not utilizing the data to drive care. Please feel free to use the phrase: Data is not a 4-Letter Word. Hopefully, this will spark meaningful conversations explaining Transformation Collaborative Outcomes Management to others. Please do not feel constrained to only have conversations with those working in behavioral/mental health. Instead, share this with anyone/everyone who is working in the human-service field: education, child-welfare, juvenile/criminal justice, primary care, anything/everything connected with people. 

Please join in preparing for the 18th Annual TCOM Conference: Managing Change and All That Jazz in September. There is an amazing opportunity to not only attend but to present as the ‘Call for Proposals’ is still open until February 28th. I would like to congratulate the 2022 TCOM Conference Chairperson-Judy Howard in leading the charge, especially her leadership & work supporting children & families throughout Illinois embodying TCOM Values & Principles.

Looking forward to connecting & reconnecting with you in New Orleans!

Ken McGill, EdS, LMFT

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