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The 2017 Healthcare Informatics Innovator Awards: Third-Place Winning Team—East Boston Neighborhood Health Center

January 23, 2017
by Rajiv Leventhal
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Connecting the body and mind with a next-level health IT-based behavioral health integration program

Leslie Scherl, M.D., pediatrician at EBNHC, adds that when this model was introduced, there was pushback. “There is a sentiment here that if something is hard to do, we pretty much just tell the primary care providers to do it,” Scherl says. “But I do feel that those of us who can utilize these services now see how beneficial it is. Like everything else you have early resisters, early adopters, and people in the middle.” Scherl notes how the benefits are seen on the patient side as well, as they often lead chaotic lives so getting to see clinicians on both sides in the same day “can be amazing.”

A Worthy Endeavor

Six months into the project’s launch, the health center was able to increase its screening capture rate by 53 percent due to the alert and screening tools being available to the entire team. Also during the first six months, EBNHC was able to provide 233 warm handoff visits.

Chris Ascencio, behavioral health program manager, notes, “We have seen a much higher rate of completed appointments with this project as well, so [that means] the amount of patients served in behavioral health has increased dramatically in this program.” All of the project’s leaders especially touted its potential impact on the identification and treatment of behavioral health in adolescents and its likely positive impact on the rate at which patients return for critically needed follow-up visits after an initial warm handoff.

Indeed, EBNHC’s own internal data indicates a return rate of approximately 80 percent following a warm handoff whereas the return rate without one is approximately 30 percent. “It is not enough to build tracking tools and workflows; we need ways to ensure that these patients are not lost to care and with our dashboards we will be able to closely monitor future follow up and improvement based on interventions,” Rogers says, adding that the goal is to increase the number of patients seen for behavioral health within primary care by 10 percent in the first year as well as a reduction of 20 percent in PH9 scores (a depression test questionnaire) for follow-up screenings.

Mancusi references NIMH [National Institute of Mental Health] statistics which found that approximately 13 percent of children ages 8 to 15 had a diagnosable mental disorder this past year. “The data compellingly justifies the need to create programs such as ours embedded within the pediatrics team to together identify and treat this cohort in an effort to change lifetime outcomes,” he says.

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