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Behavioral Health Hampered in Adopting Health IT, Survey Finds

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Washington, DC, June 25, 2012—Behavioral health organizations in the U.S. are committed to improving patient care through the “meaningful use” of health information technology (HIT), but face considerable barriers in adopting electronic health records (EHRs) and other technological advances, according to a new report previewed today by the National Council for Behavioral Health (National Council).

The Health IT survey called: HIT Adoption and Meaningful Use Readiness in Community Behavioral Health, reveals that only 2 percent of community mental health and addictions treatment organizations feel ready to meet meaningful use requirements, compared to 27 percent of Federally Qualified Health Centers and 20 percent of hospitals.

The report attributes the disparity in large part to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which provided more than $19 billion for incentive payments to support the “meaningful use” of HIT, but did not qualify behavioral health organizations to receive facility incentive payments.

“The real victims are some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations — the more than eight million adults, children, and families with mental illnesses and addiction disorders that behavioral health organizations serve,” said Linda Rosenberg, National Council’s President and CEO. “People with mental and substance use disorders have historically been excluded from the mainstream, and now they are excluded from the supports for HIT adoption offered to the rest of the safety net.”

Despite the inequity, the report finds that behavioral health organizations are eager to move forward on implementing EHRs to:

  • Facilitate communication with other healthcare organizations to improve care coordination (36 percent)
  • Improve quality care and streamline operations (33 percent)
  • Position organization for growth and expansion in emerging healthcare delivery systems (32 percent)

“It took us years to save money to be able to afford an EHR but I can’t emphasize enough how much these systems improve care for mental health patients, help avoid unnecessary tests, and enhance patient safety,” said Dr. Robert Meisner, psychiatrist at the McClendon Center in Washington, D.C.

When asked about barriers to implementing HIT, 30 percent of survey respondents identified “upfront financial costs” as the leading roadblock, followed by 12 percent who listed “ongoing maintenance costs.” Other significant impediments include workforce issues such as:

  • Lack of dedicated staff to implement technology (9 percent)
  • Lack of project management staff (8 percent)
  • Lack of skills to properly select technology (8 percent)
  • Lack of dedicated staff to maintain the systems (7 percent)

“It’s hard to take the money you need to fix leaking roofs and ensure safe buildings and divert it to electronic health records. We really need the support of Congress to make this happen. Without HIT funding, we are going to fall further and further behind in meeting patient needs,” said Jeff Richardson, CEO of Mosaic Community Services, the largest community-based behavioral health organization in Maryland employing more than 700 staff and serving thousands of children, adolescents, and adults annually.

Even patients feel that care is fragmented when provided in a paper-based system. Rebekah diFrancesca Parshall, a client at Mosaic Community Services, lamented that the big picture is missing in the absence of a well-orchestrated environment, causing different providers to each “do their own thing.”

“Behavioral health is simply not on a level playing field with the rest of healthcare,” said Mike Lardiere, the National Council’s Vice President of HIT and Strategic Development. “Without these federal incentive payments, behavioral health organizations are unfairly restricted from achieving the Triple Aim of improving the patient experience of care, improving the health of the populations, and reducing the per capita cost of healthcare.”

The report calls on Congress to stop the widening digital divide between behavioral health and the rest of healthcare by passing the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act (S. 539), which provides behavioral health organizations with the same financial incentives as their medical counterparts.

More than 500 advocates — persons with mental and addictions disorders and their families, community volunteers, and healthcare providers and administrators — are meeting tomorrow with their members of Congress during the National Council’s 8th Annual Hill Day to urge the provision of adequate federal resources to sustain quality mental health and addictions treatment services throughout the nation. Support for the Behavioral Health Information Technology Act of 2011 is high on their list of asks.

An executive summary of the survey findings is available at www.TheNationalCouncil.org. The full report is available online.

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