Process Improvement in Behavioral Health: Area of Focus

The Great Lakes Mental Health Technology Transfer Center provides training in the NIATx process improvement model.


Focus on simplicity

The NIATx model gives organizations a set of tools for addressing problematic processes in the work system. By identifying the internal practices and processes that inhibit its ability to provide effective, timely care, an organization can make changes to those processes, eliminate or reduce problems, and make progress toward improvement. 

Watch this 2-minute video to see how NIATx works: 


What is process improvement?

Process improvement can be defined as “changing the way that work is performed so it is more efficient and effective.” 
Initially geared toward manufacturing, process improvement is now widely recognized as a powerful tool for making positive change in any setting.  


How do behavioral health organizations use process improvement?

Behavioral health organizations use process improvement to:

  • Identify and address problems in their work processes
  • Speed up and sustain the adoption of evidence-based practices
  • Reduce barriers to access to and retention in treatment

Examples of process improvement in behavioral health include: 

Created for the behavioral health field 

The NIATx model of process improvement was designed specifically for the behavioral health field. 

NIATx began in 2003 as a demonstration project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA).Originally, “NIATx” was the acronym for The Network for the Improvement of Addiction Treatment. Today, it is known simply as NIATx to reflect the model's expansion into other areas.

The team that developed the model, led by Dr. David H. Gustafson at the UW-Madison, knew that people seeking behavioral health services face multiple barriers to treatment. In response, the team developed a simple model of process improvement that organizations can use to make their services easy to access, easy to use, and engaging rather than forbidding

“We founded NIATx on the conviction that what inhibits many organizations from delivering the kind of care they’d like to isn’t resources or staff—it’s problematic processes in the work system.”  –David H. Gustafson 

The evidence base for NIATx

More than 70 peer-reviewed publications document the effectiveness of the NIATx model: NIATx peer-reviewed publications.

Learn more at an upcoming NIATx Change Leader Academy!

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