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How Health Plans Drive EHR Adoption in Behavioral Healthcare

Health plans that support patient-facing functions saw higher rates of EHR adoption at covered behavioral healthcare clinics.

By Sara Heath

Health plans play a notable role in promoting health IT and EHR adoption in behavioral healthcare practices, according to a research team out of Brandeis University.

The study sought to identify how health plans can influence EHR adoption and health IT integration into behavioral healthcare, especially considering the limited support those tools receive from federal incentive policies.

“Rapid developments in health information technology (IT) are changing the medical and behavioral health care services landscape,” the researchers reported in the American Journal of Managed Care. “Although a large-scale investment in health IT adoption and implementation is taking place across the country, behavioral health has largely been left out of the initial wave of infrastructure development.”

For example, few behavioral healthcare providers are eligible for EHR incentive payments under meaningful use, and just as many will qualify for payment adjustments under the upcoming Quality Payment Program.

Private health plans, however, can change this, helping to encourage behavioral healthcare providers to integrate EHRs into their clinical workflows.

“As healthcare quality stakeholders, and given the large number of providers and enrollees that they reach, health plans have a key role in encouraging health IT to improve healthcare delivery,” the researchers said.

“Knowing the role that health plans might play in promoting health IT in behavioral health care is critical for moving health IT implementation efforts forward, as health plans often influence the activities of providers in their networks.”

Through a series of telephone surveys with health plans across the nation, the researchers identified adoption support trends in the industry during 2010. Overall, they found that health plans did play a notable role in encouraging health IT adoption.

Specifically, the researchers found that health plans that supported patient care access, condition assessment, and treatment through health IT use inspired higher EHR adoption rates.

However, despite the strides health plans made in promoting health IT use in behavioral health settings, they still faced barriers.

“Our findings illustrate that health plans are promoting health IT for behavioral health,” the researchers reported.

“However, health plans are limited in how much they can spur adoption of health IT for behavioral health more broadly, because health IT overall still has many limitations (eg, standardization of data, interoperability within healthcare systems, operability outside healthcare environments, lack of or insufficient inclusion of behavioral health data elements) that prevent adequate incorporation and clinical use of behavioral health information.”

The researchers identified other areas for improvement, as well. For example, they observed that other health specialties encourage higher EHR adoption rates through strong industry leadership.

 “More leadership for health IT in behavioral health, which has been slower to adopt health IT, could improve behavioral health care quality, efficiency, and coordination between behavioral health and general medical care,” the researchers suggested.

Ultimately, the researchers concluded that these trends hold promise for health IT in behavioral health settings. As providers feel the push to integrate behavioral health care with other health specialties, it will be important for health plans to continue to advocate EHR adoption to help coordinate that care.

“Given the current focus on integrating physical and behavioral health care, health IT strategies and EHR interoperability are likely to be important facilitators,” the researchers concluded.

“As these findings suggest, health plans played an important health IT role in 2010 to facilitate behavioral health care delivery. Health plans may also have a pivotal role moving forward to improve how health IT strategies incorporate behavioral health information and improve the quality of behavioral health care.”

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