Barriers block 'essential' integration of digital behavioral, physical health records

It is "essential" for behavioral health and physical health providers to share electronic patient data, but there are roadblocks to these efforts, according to a recent post from the Altarum Institute's Center for Implementation Science.

Anya Day, director of the center, and Haley McDermott, a research analyst, note that sharing this data would improve patient safety, enhance care coordination and lower costs. However, behavioral health providers have been slower to adopt electronic health records and health information exchanges, as there are strict privacy and confidentiality laws that are unique to behavioral health, and such providers are not part of the Meaningful Use incentive program.   

"Facilitating this exchange is a necessary step toward a future of comprehensive care coordination and engagement of an often complex and costly patient population," Day and McDermott say. "Integration and coordination of care will positively affect both physical health and life expectancy outcomes for people receiving services in the public behavioral health system."

The authors cite provider Washtenaw County Community Mental Health in Michigan as being a "leader" in the integration of behavioral and physical information exchange for sharing patient data with physical health providers at the University of Michigan and working to expand data exchange further.

Studies have shown the benefits of including behavioral health information within EHRs, but also that many of the systems do not support the integration of physical healthcare and behavioral health. This requires providers to resort to workarounds, such as double documentation and data entry, scanning of information and reliance on patient and provider recall.

Behavioral health and substance abuse records are also particularly sensitive in nature; exposure of these records without patient consent can have a chilling effect on treatment. Legislation has been introduced to spur EHR adoption by behavioral health providers by including them in the Meaningful Use program and streamlining some of the privacy requirements.

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