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Michael Petruzzelli

, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Behavioral Health IT Coalition Hosts Congressional Briefing on Interoperability

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On December 3, the Behavioral Health IT (BHIT) Coalition held a briefing for congressional staff to discuss how mental health and addiction treatment communities are addressing health information exchange and electronic health record (EHR) interoperability. This was the fourth briefing held by the coalition urging congressional action to include behavioral health providers in the EHR financial incentive program, called Meaningful Use.

The BHIT Coalition, of which the National Council is a founding member, was established in 2010 and focuses on advancing policy initiatives that would include behavioral health providers as a part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. The HITECH Act provided financial incentives to providers for the adoption of EHRs. Specifically, this briefing focused on the problems facing behavioral health providers as they work to become interoperable with primary care and hospitals without the added benefit of this financial assistance.

Joel White, CEO of the HealthITNow Coalition moderated the briefing which also featured Dr. Tom Doub, CEO of Centersone Research Institute, Rebecca Smith, CIO of Henderson Behavioral Health, and Mike Lardieri, AVP of Strategic Program Development at North Shore-LIJ. The panelists made the case that patients with diseases like diabetes and asthma cost three to four times as much when they have co-occurring behavioral health conditions. These costs are only part of the problem as a majority of behavioral health providers still lack electronic health records and only a small portion of those that do, have interoperability with other health systems. This lack of interoperability elongates patient wait time and disrupts physician workflow.

“Since 2009, there have been continued efforts to bring coordinated care to our nation’s high-risk, high-cost patient population and that health information technology is the bedrock of that coordinated care,” said Mike Lardieri. “While behavioral health providers have been excluded from financial incentives for adapting health information technology, it is clear that something must be done to better coordinate care and help this vulnerable population.”

The briefing ended with panelists urging for congressional support of the Behavioral Health IT Act (S.1517/H.R.2597), which was authored by Senators Whitehouse (D-RI) and Portman (R-OH). This legislation would extend financial incentives for the meaningful use of EHRs to specified mental health and substance use treatment providers and facilities. The National Council strongly supports this legislation and thanks Senators Whitehouse and Portman for their leadership on such an important issue.