Sometimes it pays to be different. But the fact that most behavioral health providers were excluded from the health information technology stimulus program only exacerbated an ongoing problem. Increasingly the emphasis in health care is shifting to a more holistic and coordinated care model. The establishment of pilot health home models and the pending regulations around accountable care organizations point to this change. When it comes to providing services for those with behavioral health problems, it is clear that both the physical health and substance abuse and mental health providers must cooperate in treating the individual. That cooperation relies in part on their ability to share information.
The challenges of establishing a seamless exchange of health information among primary care providers are mirrored in the behavioral health community. Practices and clinicians lack interoperable information systems. The introduction of new systems can be just as expensive and disruptive to the behavioral health world as they are in the primary care world. The technical expertise to install and maintain the systems is in short supply. And, finally, the mosaic of laws governing the privacy protections for behavioral health data is substantially more complex than those covering data on an individual’s physical health.
SAMHSA has deemed the integration of behavioral health care with physical health a priority and is tackling each of these issues.
Under a primary care / behavioral health integration initiative, SAMHSA is proposing two new projects in health information technology. By supplementing the funding to the existing grantees, we hope to provide resources sufficient to greatly increase the use of electronic health records. In addition, a separate grant program focused on health information exchange aims to create the infrastructure to allow standard record exchange between providers in both behavioral health and primary care settings. SAMHSA is establishing a toolkit to assist providers with the selection of systems and the workflow changes that accompany the transition to an electronic system. Finally, working with a board group of other federal agencies, we are attempting to include several behavioral health measures in the second stage of meaningful use criteria.
While the work in the behavioral health arena is small compared to the nationwide effort to transform primary care, the importance of laying the groundwork for the integrated treatment of some of our most serious health issues is vital. We continue to seek opportunities to improve the delivery of healthcare in the most effective and efficient way possible.
For more information on SAMHSA’s efforts in health information technology, visit SAMHSA’s Health Information Technology Strategic Initiative Webpage.