Electronic Health Records


EHR and HIE improve mental health in Chicago

By Kyle Murphy, PhD

- Health information exchange (HIE) is improving the treatment and maintaining the privacy of mental health patients in Chicago thanks to Direct secure messaging and the increased use of electronic health records (EHRs).

In a story featuring the use of electronic health records and HIE at Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Erica Galvez of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) State HIE Program highlights the meaningful impact health IT on an often overlooked segment of the patient population. “While electronic health information exchange is one tool that can help support care coordination, historically it has been challenging to launch across mental health and substance abuse care settings, due in part to the need for increased privacy protections,” notes Galvez.

Because mental health and substance abuse conditions aren’t as recognizable as physical ailments, their treatment hinges on providers having the necessary access to patient information. As Galvez explains, proper treatment is a matter of timing:

For mental health patients that have complicated medication plans with potentially dangerous side-effects and interactions, access to timely data is paramount. Ada staff are now able to discern — at the point of care — whether a patient required restraints or demonstrated other behavioral issues during hospitalization, which can significantly impact the approach they take in managing the patient’s care.

Even though the staff at Ada S. McKinley Community Services has used an EHR system since the mid-1990s, they haven’t avoided the time suck that are paper records. “Although Ada has been using some form of an electronic health record (EHR) since 1995, the health center was still drowning in paper because referring physicians and hospitals did not have electronic systems,” observes Galvez.

Given how important time is to the treatment of mental health and substance abuse patients, the national push to increase the adoption of EHR systems and enable the sharing of EHRs via HIEs is showing tangible benefits in more efficient coordination of care in Illinois, especially at Ada. “Illinois is using the recent implementation of Direct secure messaging to enable electronic information sharing across primary care, acute care, and the broad behavioral health care community in the Chicago metro area,” continues Galvez, “The organization has cut the time it takes to get information into the patient’s EHR from months to minutes.”

Another added benefit of electronic exchange to providers and patients is mobility in both senses of the term. Because the point-of-care is constantly shifting, as a result of referrals or happenstance, providers continue to lean on mobile technology to reach their patients while maintaining a secure link to their practice. As Galvez reveals, “Equipped with iPads, staff can now complete crisis assessments using a mobile application and send the assessments via Direct secure messaging to be immediately uploaded into the EHR at Ada.”

For those suffering from mental illness, privacy assumes a whole other level of importance. Currently, some are debating the level of access that providers should have to a patient’s health record. However, real-time information is crucial to providers charged with treating a patient’s mental health at the point-of-care with little delay.

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