The Rehabilitation Treatment Specification System: Implications for Improvements in Research Design, Reporting, Replication, and Synthesis
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Despite significant advances in measuring the outcomes of rehabilitation interventions, little progress has been made in specifying the therapeutic ingredients and processes that cause measured changes in patient functioning. The general approach to better clarifying the process of treatment has been to develop reporting checklists and guidelines that increase the amount of detail reported. However, without a framework instructing researchers in how to describe their treatment protocols in a manner useful to or even interpretable by others, requests for more detail will fail to improve our understanding of the therapeutic process. In this article, we describe how the Rehabilitation Treatment Specification System (RTSS) provides a theoretical framework that can improve research intervention reporting and enable testing and refinement of a protocol's underlying treatment theories. The RTSS framework provides guidance for researchers to explicitly state their hypothesized active ingredients and targets of treatment as well as for how the individual ingredients in their doses directly affect the treatment targets. We explain how theory-based treatment specification has advantages over checklist approaches for intervention design, reporting, replication, and synthesis of evidence in rehabilitation research. A complex rehabilitation intervention is used as a concrete example of the differences between an RTSS-based specification and the Template for Intervention Description and Replication checklist. The RTSS's potential to advance the rehabilitation field can be empirically tested through efforts to use the framework with existing and newly developed treatment protocols.
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