PROMS – Track and Trace for Mental Health Without Knowing What Is Being Tracked

a just published study in the British Medical Journal has found that  ‘There is insufficient evidence and mostly of low quality, that routine monitoring  with PROMS (Patient reported outcome measures) … leads to improvement in outcomes’.  Of the 5 studies reviewed one was of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) Service in which the PHQ-9 and GAD-7 self report measures were used. 

Strangely the authors of the study Kendrick and Maund (2020) are surprised by the negative findings. It seems not to have occurred to them, that if it is not known with any certainty what the patients were suffering from in the first place then using the most available psychometric test to measure outcome is unlikely to yield any positive findings. In none of the studies was a standardised diagnostic interview used to establish diagnosis and determine any accompanying diagnostic comorbidity.  Thus it cannot be reliably known which is the outcome measure of primary interest, and should becomes the established yardstick before treatment begins and what secondary analyses should be declared in advance. This is akin to the need to pre-register how the results of a randomised controlled trial are going to be analysed rather than going on a post hoc fishing expedition highlighting some positive finding or other to justify a service.

Last Night of The PROMS?

The use of PROMS appears to be fuelled by the need to quickly process patients, using surrogate outcome measures. Rather than taking the time to properly listen to them and use a real world outcome measure such as loss of diagnostic status for say 8 weeks, as assessed by an independent evaluator using a standardised diagnostic interview. Psychometric tests completed for the benefit of a treating clinician are subject to demand characteristics, including wanting to please the therapist and not wanting to feel time has been wasted in engaging in psychological therapy. These concerns are amplified when tests are administered (as in IAPT) on a weekly basis and clients can easily remember their last score.

For all the deficiencies of track and trace over COVID-19,  the target is at least not a ‘fuzzy’ , rendering the process meaningless. Ironically since the demise of Public Health England Baroness Dido Harding is in charge the Covid-19-19 Track and trace. I e-mailed her asking if she was also going to assume responsibility for IAPT but have had no reply. Any QUANGO such as IAPT is likely to rejoice at the absence of accountability but to the detriment of the public. There has to be clarity about exactly who IAPT is accountable to now.

Monitoring Is Necessary But  Never Sufficient 

Just as monitoring the spread of the coronavirus is critical to triggering some preventative measures, it is likely going to be insufficient until there is an evidence based treatment protocol including a vaccine and treatment of the effected. So to only an informed monitoring of mental health problems can highlight appropriate treatment interventions. Monitoring by itself is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Unfortunately there is nothing in the Kendrick and Maund (2020) approach that is likely to make it reliably prescriptive, making their proposed developments in monitoring rather pointless.

Dr Mike Scott