Last month I wrote an article about movement toward Electronic Health Records (EHR) in the behavioral health community. I was stunned by your silence on the issue. So much of my energy for the past two years has been focused on EHRs, their use in general medicine and in mental health, that I was very surprised that our readers were not interested in discussing EHRs. I am not sure whether the booming silence was a reflection of denial about movement toward these products, lack of information about them, or some other factors. So let’s start with some information.
In May, 2003 the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health reported that the mental health community has been much slower to adopt Electronic Medical Records than the general medical community in spite of the potential benefit for consumers being just as great. The Commission concluded that a substantial effort should be made to develop the infrastructure to support interoperable electronic medical records and personal health records, and that the behavioral health community should move forward with adoption of appropriate products.
Early in 2006, a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)-funded Behavioral Health EHR Profile Workgroup, a multi-stakeholder effort to develop an EHR Conformance Profile for behavioral health began work. I joined that workgroup early in 2007 and participated through the adoption of a standard for Behavioral Health EHRs by HL7 this past summer. The Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) has formed the necessary workgroup to develop testing and certification standards for Behavioral Health EHRs and plans to begin such certification by summer 2010.
The thinking about EHRs and their benefit are multiple. Primarily, they are believed to improve the quality of care by minimizing errors and duplication, by providing decision support for the provider, by offering evidence-based practice options, and by making all that information available rapidly to other providers. Adding Personal Health Records (PHRs) into the mix and connecting everything by way of a National Health Information Network (NHIN) or Health Information Exchanges (HIEs) will provide real-time information access for both consumers and providers of health care services.
The election of Barack Obama has spurred lots of discussion about the direction that healthcare reform will take. He mentioned electronic medical records in speeches and debates, but there is not yet much information about how he will pursue policy in that arena. The current financial crisis and recession will undoubtedly take priority over healthcare reform, but the cost of healthcare makes it a pressing issue for everyone.
I have heard providers talk about EHRs in widely varied ways. Some (including some of our customers) have used software products to maintain their clinical records for years and would not want to practice without one. Some clinicians believe that such a product would create obstacles to best care of their clients. Others are concerned about workflow interruption and the amount of time it might take to utilize an EHR. And those of us who work in the industry and are clinicians by training have major concern about privacy and security of health records generally and EHRs in particular.
What are your thoughts about EHRs? Do you see them becoming a part of the picture for your organization? Do you have a plan for purchase of such a product? Do you already use an EHR? How well does it do the job for you? Please let us know your thoughts. What providers think and how they plan to behave will control how this all unfolds.
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Thanks for your thoughts.