Process Improvement in Behavioral Health

Process improvement in behavioral health is a special area focus area for the Great Lakes Prevention Technology Transfer Center. 

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 prevention practitioners use process improvement?

Prevention practitioners can use process improvement for: 

  1. Coalition Functioning
  • Increase meeting attendance
  • Increase sector representation
  • Increase number of volunteer hours logged
  1. Implementing Prevention Evidence-Based Practices 
  • Increase the number of schools using programs
  • Increase the number of schools meeting program fidelity standards
  • Increase parent attendance at program sessions
  • Increase parent completion rate of programs with multiple sessions
  • Increase communication reach of messaging media campaign


The NIATx model of process improvement

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 60 peer-reviewed articles document the effectiveness of the NIATx model. View the full list here

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 it works: 


Learn the NIATx Model: The NIATx Change Leader Academy

The NIATx Change Leader Academy (CLA)  is a four-session virtual workshop followed by three months of optional virtual peer networking and support from a NIATx coach. 

Read more about the NIATx Change Leader Academy

For more information about the NIATx Change Leader Academy, contact

Julia Parnell Alexander: or
Ann Schensky at