National mental health information priorities 2nd edition

1.8 - Types of information required

Page last updated: June 2005

A recent report from the Mental Health Statistics Improvement Program of the United States Centre for Mental Health Services provides a useful framework for classifying the types of information required to support a comprehensive mental health care system.5 It describes four categories of information, summarised in figure 1.

  • Descriptive information – What are we doing?

    Basic descriptive information is needed to answer questions of the 'who, what and how' kind, including, for example: Who needs services and who receives services? Who provides those services and at what cost?

  • Evaluative information – How well are we doing?

    Information in this category is needed to provide feedback on whether intended goals are being met. Evaluative information provides feedback on the outcomes of services and treatments for consumers and indicates how well individual providers, programs, and the system as a whole perform in regard to the provision of accessible, appropriate, high quality, and cost-effective care.

  • Prescriptive information – What should we be doing?

    Information in this category is derived from what the research literature or clinical or managerial experience indicate will produce the best results and usually takes the form of service standards or clinical and system guidelines. Prescriptive information is fundamental to evidence-based practice.

  • Corrective information – Does what we are doing match what we should be doing?

    Corrective information comprises feedback that compares actual clinical and system practices to those practices recommended in evidence-based guidelines. Typically, corrective information is available in the form of performance indicators or benchmarks that ask the question 'does what we are doing match what we should be doing'. When desired effects are not achieved, the information obtained through these measures provides the focus for quality improvement activities.
Information addressing each of these categories is required to support decisions at all levels of the mental health system.

Initial information development efforts under the National Mental Health Strategy were focused on gathering descriptive information, and were designed to answer the question of 'who receives what services from whom and at what cost ...'.6 The final part of this question –'... with what effect'– has been the focus of more recent work to introduce outcomes data into routine mental health collections and extended the national focus into the evaluative domain.

Information development for prescriptive and corrective purposes – that is, to move from collection of information to using that information to support decision making – has not yet been a focus of national activity. As discussed in part 3, this is the key challenge ahead. The work plan outlined aims to move the mental health sector closer to the ideal, while recognising that building the full complement of information categories is a long term objective.Top of page

Figure 1: Information 'building blocks' required to support a comprehensive mental health system


Refer to the following list for a text equivalent of figure 1: Information 'building blocks' required to support a comprehensive mental health system

Text version of figure 1

  • Information collection:
    • Descriptive information – What are we doing?
    • Evaluative information – How well are we doing?

  • Information application:
    • Prescriptive information – What should we be doing?
    • Corrective information – Does what we are doing match what we should be doing?

Footnotes

5 Centre for Mental Health Services (2000). Decision Support 2000+: Draft Requirements Analysis. Centre for Mental Health Services, Maryland.
6 Leginski W, Croze C, Driggers J, Dumpman S, Geersten D, Kamis-Gould E, Namerow J, Patton R, Wilson N and Wurster C (1989). Data Standards for Mental Health Decision Support Systems: A Report of the Task Force to Revise the Data Content and System Guidelines of the Mental Health Statistics Improvement Program. National Institute of Mental Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Washington.