Background

What is CARS and how was it created?

CARS is an easy-to-use computer guided interview that includes comprehensive psychosocial and mental health assessments. CARS is flexible, allowing the user to integrate assessment information from multiple sessions. CARS is easy to understand, providing immediate personalized information about the mental health disorders for which a client qualifies or is at risk, a summary of other risk factors and important issues, and a list of resources personalized by a client’s issues and location. CARS packages a powerful mental health assessment tool with a user-friendly interface. CARS is a tool that laypeople can use easily to administer comprehensive mental health assessments.

The Importance of CARS

CARS is able to store and integrate data about clients in a way that allows for:

  • More accurate assessment – Even when programs and services attempt to estimate the extent of psychiatric disorders in the populations that they serve, in the absence of systematic screening tools, those efforts often are inaccurate. Standardized and automated assessment and diagnosis tools are essential to the widespread adoption of mental health screening. CARS is an efficient and user-friendly computerized tool that allows staff to effectively screen for mental health issues.
  • Effective treatment planning – CARS provides immediate personalized output that counselors/staff/intake coordinators can use to inform treatment for individual clients. The information CARS provides will allow for better targeting of services and better communication about clients’ needs.
  • Efficient use of resources – We have developed CARS to take advantage of open source software (Java, Drools, and MySQL) in order to reduce costs to potential users. The tool will eliminate the need for unnecessary paperwork, and help staff streamline assessment and optimize face-to-face time with clients.

Why CARS is the Right Choice

    • CARS provides accurate and reliable diagnostic information for up to 13 major psychiatric disorders that will facilitate effective treatment planning.
    • CARS will improve the intake and data collection processes at programs, making it easier and more efficient for employees to collect, maintain, integrate, and share information about their clients.
    • CARS generates user-friendly reports at the click of a button.
    • CARS adapts questions from the Composite International Diagnostic Instrument (CIDI), a well-validated tool designed for lay interviewers who may not have expertise or training in mental health assessment.
    • The CIDI has been utilized in large-scale epidemiological and cross-cultural studies worldwide. It is one of the most comprehensive and thorough instruments currently available for use in diagnosing substance use and psychiatric disorders. Therefore, programs can be confident that the assessments that they conduct with CARS are well-validated and reliable.
    • The CARS flow and interface make it easy for clinicians and laypeople alike to use it to administer comprehensive mental health assessments, with minimal time and effort.
    • CARS provides geographically and individually targeted referrals to appropriate treatment services.
    • CARS runs on free open source software.

What CARS includes?

There are three primary components of CARS:

  1. The assessment – consists of different modules administered for each psychiatric disorder or psychosocial domain.
  2. The report generator – includes personalized information about the mental health disorders for which a client qualifies or is at risk, condensing the information into a streamlined, reader-friendly format.
  3. The referral generator – compiles a list of resources dependent on the client’s issues and location.

How CARS works

  • Asks about signs and symptoms of mental health issues both within the past year and the client’s lifetime.
  • Identifies specific mental health disorders for which an offender is at risk.
  • Generates a report that informs the user about a client’s treatment needs and provides appropriate ZIP code-based referrals.
  • Can be used in three formats:
    • CARS (1-3 hours)
    • CARS Screener (20-50 minutes)
    • Self-administered CARS Screener (20-50 minutes)

Who is using CARS?

CARS has received widespread support from the Governors Highway Safety Association, American Probation and Parole Association, Emergency Medicine Foundation, Cambridge Health Alliance, Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.