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Study: Behavioral Health IT Needs Greater Standardization, Better Integration with General Healthcare Data

June 8, 2016
by Heather Landi
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A study published in the June issue of Health Affairs, based on research supported by the Commonwealth Fund, addresses the gaps and challenges in behavioral health IT and offers recommendations for the use of health IT in improving the quality of behavioral healthcare.

According to the study article, written by lead researcher Piper Ranallo, organizer and chair of the National Mental Health Informatics Workgroup and fonder of non-profit Six Aims for Behavioral Health, while the use of health IT in general healthcare has been shown to have significant potential to facilitate the delivery of safe, high-quality and cost-effective care, it’s application to behavioral healthcare has been slow.

The limited use impacts the extent to which consumers seeking care for mental health or substance use disorders can derive its benefits, the study author wrote.

It is estimated that 26 percent of American adults live with a mental disorder in any given year. While 97 percent of U.S. hospitals and 74 percent of U.S. physicians have implemented interoperable electronic health records (EHRs), only 30 percent of behavioral health providers have done so, the study author wrote.

The research team included researchers from the Department of Veterans Affairs, specifically Amy Kilbourne, director of the Veterans Affairs Quality Enhancement Research Initiative (QUERI) in the Health Services Research and Development Service, Veterans Health Administration and Angela Whatley, program manager of QUERI, in the VA. The research team also included Harold Pincus, professor and vice chair of the Department of Psychiatry, Columbia University and director of quality and outcomes research at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

According to a summary of the research from the Commonwealth Fund, the researchers identified key challenges, including the inability of health IT systems to effectively capture clinical behavioral health information in a structured and standardized format, and the limited use of clinical decision support tools. “More generally, the ‘siloed’ nature of general health, mental health, and substance abuse care makes it difficult for providers to share important patient information, the study authors wrote.

As part of the study, the researchers make the following recommendations for the use of health IT in improving the quality of behavioral health care:

  • Address the significant gaps in clinical terminology systems, specifically the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine–Clinical Terms (SNOMED–CT) and Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC)
  • Include start-up costs for development and deployment of health IT use in behavioral health when developing bundled-payment policies
  • Develop and implement technologies that are behind health IT hardware and software, including tools for clinical decision support and information exchange
  • Require EHR vendors to implement more-robust security features.

The researchers concluded that “enhanced EHRs and health IT will allow behavioral health providers to use treatments more effectively and promote patient-centered care,” according to the study summary.

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