Health information technology (HIT) is important to healthcare providers for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is for complying with Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Records (EHR) Incentive Program requirements.
HIT is critical to the success of health homes and healthcare integration, allowing behavioral health and primary care providers to share information. This sharing enables healthcare providers to have access to all available healthcare information related to the individual being served. And this, of course, results in improved health outcomes. The SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions has a wide array of HIT resources: click here for more information.
Not too many years ago, healthcare providers were handwriting or dictating their progress notes. When patients were seen outside the office, or if the notes were not yet filed in the chart, the limited amount of information available created a challenge to providing the best care. A patient who was unable to provide a thorough medical history was being treated blindly in some regards. And health implications aside, numerous medical procedures were repeated due to lack of access to the reports. Duplication of the procedures drove up healthcare costs.
In addition, the sharing of information between providers was the exception rather than the rule. Coordination of care between providers for patients referred to specialty care was not reimbursed and, as a result of limited resources, less than ideal. This brief history lesson on medical records serves to illustrate the value of electronic health records and health information technology.
Fast Forward to the Present
Though far from ideal, the healthcare industry is making great strides in health information technology, including health information exchanges (HIEs) designed to facilitate the sharing of data. Despite the rapid progress, sharing information continues to be a challenge for behavioral health and primary care organizations. These integration efforts create unique challenges, largely due to problems with sharing information between two systems. The electronic health records (EHRs) used by primary care providers are seldom compatible with EHRs used by behavioral health providers. While some partnerships have implemented means of addressing this (work arounds), such as a third system to link the two or “home grown” alternatives, there are currently no ideal options available.
These noble community providers persevere however. They are well accustomed to dealing with challenges in the quest for pursuing their mission. People with serious mental illness are dying prematurely; and has been inadvertently perpetuated by this lack of information sharing. In an attempt to be respectful and responsible with healthcare information, limitations (and misunderstandings) have impeded information sharing. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), Public Law 104-191 and Title 42: Public Health Part 2—Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records, also known as 42-CFR Part 2, are the most frequently cited reasons for not sharing information. These federal regulations cite guidelines for confidential health information. Though intended to provide clarity, healthcare organizations have interpreted the regulations very conservatively.
HIT has changed the face of healthcare and holds great promise for the future of behavioral health and primary care integration. Health information technology is not only providing cost-effective means of providing superior collaborative treatment, it is paving the way for reducing the health disparities for people with serious mental illness and other behavioral health conditions.