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Rural Health Information Hub

Evaluation Measures

A common set of performance measures can help substance use disorder (SUD) program staff and partners working toward the same goals. Identifying baseline measures can help programs document changes in the target population. Collecting metrics at regular intervals will help programs monitor the effectiveness of the intervention.

The measures used to evaluate rural SUD programs vary depending on the program model and the goal of the evaluation and may include demographic information, process measures, and outcome measures.

Demographic Information – These measures focus on describing background information about participants, which can be important for identifying disparities or target populations. Examples include:

  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Age
  • Educational attainment
  • Income level
  • Insurance status (Medicare, Medicaid, private, uninsured)

Process Measures – These measures focus on how services are provided. Examples include measuring:

  • Number of staff trained
  • Number of educational sessions held
  • Number of attendees at program events
  • Number of coalition meetings held
  • Number of patients enrolled in and/or served by the program
  • Number of patients receiving services
  • Number of successful referrals to other services
  • Duration (days or weeks) of patient participation in treatment or services
  • Number of patient healthcare and/or mental health visits in the past year

Outcome Measures – These measures focus on the results or overall achievements of the program. Examples include:

  • Rates of SUDs in the patient population or in the community
  • Rates of hospitalization for SUD or overdose
  • Rates of substance misuse-related emergency department visits
  • Rates of opioid or other drug overdose
  • Rates of binge or heavy drinking
  • Rates of underage drinking
  • Return on investment (ROI) in program examining healthcare cost savings
  • Rate of substance misuse-related mortality
  • Amount of time abstinent from substances such as opioids, alcohol, and stimulants

For general guidance for determining evaluation measures, see Evaluation Measures in the Rural Community Health Toolkit.

Resources to Learn More

Costs of Emergency Department Visits for Mental and Substance Use Disorders in the United States, 2017
Discusses costs associated with emergency department visits for mental health and SUDs. Provides information on patient characteristics and distribution of costs by type of SUD.
Author(s): Karaca, Z., & Moore, B.
Organization(s): Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
Date: 5/2020

Criteria for Selection of High-Performing Indicators
Offers a checklist of practice-based criteria to determine the most valid indicators for monitoring and evaluating program performance. Discusses the relevance and usefulness of each criteria identified.
Author(s): MacDonald, G.
Organization(s): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Project Lazarus: Community–Based Overdose Prevention in Rural North Carolina
Describes Project Lazarus, a community-based overdose prevention program that significantly reduced overdose death rates and improved other opioid–related outcomes in western North Carolina. Includes a description of data and outcomes that stakeholders examined to evaluate the effectiveness of the program.
Author(s): Albert, S., Brason, F.W., & Sanford, C.K.
Citation: Pain Medicine, 12(s2), S77-85
Date: 6/2011

Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis
Discusses how stakeholders can use cost-benefit analysis for decision-making, the economic impact of substance abuse and misuse, and policy implications.
Author(s): Miller, T. and Hendrie, D.
Organization: Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Date: 2008