The Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center (BHWRC) developed a workforce MDS for the broad field of behavioral health in 2015-2016. The following year, the MDS was tested and refined in specific populations of behavioral health workers, and an additional MDS was developed to collect workforce data at the organizational level. In 2017-2018, the BHWRC determined how its individual-level and organizational-level workforce MDS work interrelates with other behavioral health data needs.The Center’s prior studies found that currently existing data sets lack the breadth and scope to encapsulate the entire behavioral health workforce.

This project developed a methodology for unified behavioral health workforce data collection by engaging in a two-phased approach to identify strategies, barriers, and opportunities. The Center gathered additional MDS information used by other health professions that goes beyond workforce data collection, such as clinically-focused MDSs, and those related to system structures, financing, and patient encounters. The Center also engaged with representatives from professional trade organizations, state licensing boards, and Consortium members to help identify strategies for outreach, implementation, incentives, and barriers related to adoption of the BHWRC MDS. The Center has applied the results to inform recommendations and proposals for the development of a unified behavioral health workforce data collection system.


Enumerating the supply of the myriad occupations that comprise the behavioral health workforce is an important step in workforce planning. Understanding each occupation’s distribution, work status, education, experience, specialties, practice setting, services provided, payment forms, and demographics would allow policy makers to craft precision interventions to remedy behavioral health care access issues. Collecting such granular data is difficult, particularly when those data are to be nationally-representative, current, and publicly available. Adoption of a uniform set of data elements for purposes of improved data quality and comparability is referred to as a Minimum Data Set (MDS). The purpose of this study is to determine whether the behavioral health workforce MDS developed in 2016 is feasible for licensing boards, professional organizations, and employers to utilize in practice. Findings can inform a strategy for collecting comprehensive, standardized data on the workforce across the country to achieve the goal of efficient workforce planning.

Sixteen key informant interviews were conducted during the summer of 2018 to elicit the challenges and opportunities associated with implementing a standardized MDS for the behavioral health workforce nationwide. Question themes included: 1) prior use of a workforce MDS; 2) usefulness of the five MDS topical themes; 3) barriers to MDS implementation; and 4) recommendations for the Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center (BHWRC) and federal partners for national implementation of the MDS.

Study findings show that the BHWRC should work to develop the following:

  • An web-based platform that houses an MDS question bank to permit users to organize and filter variables of most relevance to their discipline and data collection needs.
  • A statement that better summarizes how the data will be of value to workers who provide the information and organizations that utilize the tool.
  • A recommendation to federal partners that more technical assistance and resources are needed for state partners and professional organizations to implement the MDS and create a uniform data collection system.


Steps toward implementing a national behavioral health workforce minimum data set

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