Behavioral health EHRs on the rise

Many health care organizations have suggested to the Department of Health and Human Services that behavioral health should play a greater role in stage 3 meaningful use requirements. The new standards are expected to be implemented within the next couple of years and providers will have to comply to them by 2018. As a result of these requests, many experts believe that health IT that caters to behavioral and mental health patients will become increasingly popular over the coming months.

Primary care vs. behavioral health
Behavioral health may become a new feature on many health IT systems – particularly electronic health records – in acute and ambulatory settings. Health organizations that specialize in behavioral health have found it difficult to adapt to traditional EHRs due to the variation in workflows and how providers document patients' information with their health IT. However, the industry's emphasis on accountable care is likely the reason for eroding differences between providers and care settings. 

"As accountable care and the new health care environment move forward and evolve, there will be less difference because one of the big things in behavioral health is that it is very much a team environment so that you have folks from all different specialties participating along with the patient," said Melinda Wagner, general manager of behavioral health for Cerner, according to EHR Intelligence.

Providers must realize the major differences between behavioral health and primary care. Because health developers are beginning to cater their technology toward behavioral health environments, they must be aware of the factors that make it different from a traditional care setting, which they are used to creating EHR systems for. 

The integration of behavioral health and traditional health IT systems will shed light on many physical aspects of patients' well-being. This is despite the fact that workflows and care planning coordination may be different. The new knowledge gained is most effective when it stems from feedback from providers working in both environments. 

Potential challenges
One challenge that IT developers are likely to face is the unsuccessful transfer of the information from behavioral health organizations from their original system to an EHR that has the tools to perform the same functions. They will have to develop technology that gathers patients' socioeconomic data without disrupting practice workflows. 

Even though the transition of data from one EHR platform to the other may be difficult, this is not the greatest test that behavioral health EHR adoption will have to face. Important aspects like interoperability with health IT used by the other providers seen by patients will be tricky to achieve. 

Patients should not have to give their health data to doctors who only have one system and worry about how their information will be delivered to their other providers. It is the health care IT developer's and provider's responsibility to use a system that is interoperable. 

An additional issue that is likely to come up as behavioral health EHRs become increasingly popular is security and privacy concerns, as patient information in a behavioral health organization is especially private. It may be challenging to create a system that is fully interoperable and is still compliant with security standards. It is essential to protect the patient data on the mental health side of the industry while sharing the information with the providers in charge of coordinating the patient's overall care. 

As there are many different recovery and treatment plans used now for patients, the system must be flexible and ready to move information wherever and whenever it is required. Over the next several months, health IT developers are expected to start creating an increasing number of behavioral EHR systems as the health care industry watches and observes their success.