APA Practice Directorate officials unveiled a unique data-collecting tool designed to capture vital information on the state of psychological practice during a breakfast at APA's 2001 Annual Convention.

PracticeNet,™ the name of the Practice Directorate's new data-gathering system, harnesses the power of the internet to capture instantaneous and continuously updated information about what is happening in the practice of psychology, said Russ Newman, PhD, JD, executive director for professional practice.

The Practice Directorate plans to use the system to capture other information about how psychologists are using their time, whether it's providing clinical services, teaching supervision or other activities being imposed on them by health plans. Information from PracticeNet will be used to inform the directorate's initiatives and advocacy efforts on behalf of the profession.

PracticeNet involves a specialized application of Real Time Behavior Sampling (RTBS) methodology that eliminates biases in other more traditional survey methods. The methodology is so unique that APA has filed a patent application as part of its development of the technology infrastructure, explained Geoffrey M. Reed, PhD, the Practice Directorate's assistant executive director for professional development and one of the lead developers of the system.

How it works

PracticeNet is designed to capture specific moments, or snapshots, or practitioner activity. Periodically throughout the year, practitioners who have volunteered to be part of the system receive an e-mail message directing them to a secure Web page set up for receiving responses, explained Stefanie A. Klein, PhD, who directs the PracticeNet program. Participants are asked to respond to a series of questions about a single, recent episode of care they have provided to a client, usually within the past 72 hours. (The survey will never ask for any identifying client information.) The whole process is designed to be simple for the practitioner, requiring only 10 to 15 minutes no more than six times per year. Over time, these snapshots will combine to provide a detailed and accurate picture of practice.

A part of the initial development of PracticeNet has been underwritten by the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT) as part of the agency's effort to learn more about how psychologists are meeting and treating substance-use problems, Klein said. In a session linked to the PracticeNet breakfast, CSAT Director H. Westley Clark, MD, JD, MPH, discussed CSAT's efforts to bring practitioners up-to-date on the latest findings in substance abuse research (see box, next page). Through PracticeNet, CSAT hopes to find out more about the realities of current practice with individuals with substance related problems. PracticeNet can also be used to improve practitioners' access to good information about current treatment technologies and about what their colleagues are doing in this area.

The power and flexibility of PracticeNet also allows the rapid collection of information related to important events that may affect the practice of psychology. For example, a special survey was conducted on PracticeNet related to the short-term effects of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and their aftermath on psychologists and their clients. A follow-up survey is being conducted from November to February to examine how these responses change over time. These surveys provide an opportunity to assess such issues as the level of concern reported by clients, symptoms that may have appeared or worsened, and the process of finding meaning in the events. Psychologists' responses to this material are also being assessed.

This information will be extremely valuable in helping to understand the needs of the public and the professional needs related to practice. The results of these surveys will be made available to PracticeNet participants on the PracticeNet Web site, and will also be disseminated within and outside APA, including relevant decision makers engaged in strategizing how best to help the nation adapt.

The program will serve several important functions for the Practice Directorate and the field, Klein added. It will:

  • Provide the directorate with instantaneous, continuously updated information about what's happening in practice to help staff formulate strategy.

  • Apply to a wide range of research questions.

  • Provide information on practice patterns in real time.

  • Help manage patient outcomes.

In addition, the surveys reach practitioners within two hours of any given episode of care so the information they're providing is fresh in their minds and readily available in their records.

It also allows:

  • Observations of many points in time, to create a more realistic picture of what goes on in psychologists' practice arenas.

  • Significant opportunities for data analysis, including the ability to examine aggregated practice patterns as well as separate pieces of information.

  • Quick feedback time for practitioners interested in learning the results of any given survey.

Selected responses are instantly summarized for online viewing, and the system provides automatic data downloads to APA for more analyses. The PracticeNet technology has tremendous potential, Klein said. About 73,000 doctoral-level psychologists provide health services in this country, and about 53,000 licensed doctoral psychologists are APA members. "That's a huge potential sample size that can generate rich and useful data for the field," she said.

Further Reading

All APA members who provide direct health services — including independently licensed psychologists and interns, postdoctoral trainees and graduate students — are eligible to participate in PracticeNet. To apply, go to PracticeNet and click on "Apply Now." For additional information about PracticeNet, email PracticeNet staff at PracticeNet.