New bipartisan legislation on Capitol Hill aims improve the coordination of mental and physical healthcare with a funding and guidance to spur wider adoption of electronic health records for behavioral health providers.

WHY IT MATTERS

The Behavioral Health Information Technology Coordination Act was introduced by U.S. Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., along with Reps. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.

The bill would provide $20 million a year in grant funding over five fiscal years beginning in FY25, according to an announcement from Cortez Masto’s office. 

The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information would oversee the grants and would report – no later than two years after enactment and then annually – to Congress on “the number and type of behavioral health care providers that receive the grant, their ability to electronically exchange patient health information with other provider types and clinical and non-clinical outcomes for patients,” the statement said.

ONC would work with Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to develop voluntary behavioral health IT standards, while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would join ONC and SAMHSA in developing joint guidance on how states can use Medicaid to promote adoption and interoperability among behavioral health providers. 

With regard to patient privacy, the text of the bill indicates that regulations to be developed will take privacy into consideration with regard to sharing patient health data across behavioral, primary and specialty healthcare systems.

Doctors, clinical psychologists, nurse practitioners, clinical social workers, psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers meeting certain criteria, and residential or outpatient mental health or substance abuse treatment facilities would be eligible.

THE LARGER TREND

EHRs can help mental health providers improve the use of their data and make big strides on social determinants of health.

Behavioral health providers often lag behind in technology adoption, according to Jeremy Bloom, CEO of Arizona-based NorthSight Recovery, largely because they initially weren’t included in the $35 billion “meaningful use” EHR Incentive Program enabled by the HITECH Act 14 years ago.

“There are many reasons for this disparity, but behavioral health’s absence from the incentives provided by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009 certainly left many facilities at the back of the line for technology and funding,” Bloom told Healthcare IT News in May.

As a result, SDOH factors such as housing and transportation, which can be significant in accessing substance use disorder treatment, are hard to track.

After implementing an EHR, the recovery center was able to see crucial time-to-care and recovery capital factors and improved its referral-to-intake time to less than two days.

“The best part: We connect all of this data seamlessly with our health information exchange, which is helping drive care coordination and transparency across healthcare stakeholders to treat SUD better and meet patients where they are in their treatment journey,” he said.

ON THE RECORD

“Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is essential that behavioral health care providers have the same access to the technology and electronic health records that other practices utilize daily,” said Masto in a statement.

Andrea Fox is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Email: afox@himss.org

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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