Contingency management, Implementation research, Therapy training, Virtual instruction

Cost Savings of Behavioral Health Virtual Instruction for Therapy Training


December 6, 2022 | Reading Time: 2 Minutes

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Developing behavioral healthcare skills through therapy training is key for professionals seeking to deliver ethical, quality care. Although the pandemic required a change from in-person, live therapy training to virtual instruction, it is still unknown whether training using virtual instruction is equally effective for behavioral health professionals concerning cost and quality. Implementation research can reveal whether therapy training for behavioral healthcare professionals is a worthwhile strategy for treatment centers, hospitals, or institutions. This article details a recently published study of the usefulness and lowered costs of therapy training for counselors using Evidence-based practices (EBPs) like contingency management to reduce annual training costs. 

Need for Cost-Effective Therapy Training

The opioid epidemic is a particular issue that represents expenses of over $500 billion annually due to deaths, criminal justice processes, and healthcare system demands (CEA, 2017). Professionals serving this community must adequately be prepared to meet the life-and-death challenges that can occur. Therapy training based on Implementation research can help clinicians deliver EBPs effectively, including contingency management and behavioral reinforcement to help clients achieve treatment goals and maintain their recovery.

How Staff Is Prepared for Opioid Contingency Management

Hartzler et al. (2022) conducted a study examining the implementation of contingency management in treatment programs for opioid addiction. The cost of virtual instruction versus in-person therapy training was compared among 26 counselors from eight opioid treatment programs who sought in-person instruction for contingency management. Another 31 counselors from ten different opioid treatment centers participated in virtual instruction for training on contingency management. 

Therapy training that was the same in both settings, in-person vs. virtual instruction included:

  1. The facilitator
  2. The contingency management learning objects presented, and 
  3. Educational activities. 
  4. All counselors completed a post-training role-play that was individually scored and compared to benchmarks on initial readiness and advanced proficiency in contingency management. 

When measuring the usefulness and cost of live versus virtual instruction, rates specific to each cohort were calculated based on benchmark attainment. Additionally, expenses were calculated per counselor.

Virtual Instruction for Therapy Training Is 

The findings were notable. They included:

  1. Counselor readiness and proficiency in contingency management reached rates of 12- to 14% higher among counselors who participated in virtual instruction than in-person instruction.
  2. The virtual training cohort saved $399 per counselor compared to live therapy training. 

Using an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio, researchers concluded that virtual instruction for contingency management therapy training is the dominant strategy compared to in-person training. Overall, the researchers stated that virtual instruction for contingency management training could potentially reach more clinicians due to the convenience of such instruction and because treatment centers and institutions are often required to pay less to train more clinicians. They believe that virtual instruction on contingency management can potentially put more counselors in roles of delivering EBPs that can contribute to recovery, health, and quality of life for individuals with substance use concerns.

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