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    Getting behavioral health online with EHRs

    Wediko Children’s Services implemented its first electronic health record (EHR) system last year, going live on July 1, 2015.

    The EHR quickly proved invaluable, allowing its cadre of therapists and counselors to capture more information more frequently, even while out in the field – a particularly important achievement as most services happen in schools and clients’ homes, said Michael J. Clontz, LICSW, a director at the Boston-based behavioral health provider.

    Clontz said he and his colleagues knew an EHR would deliver strong returns, but he also acknowledged that his organization was late switching over to the new system from their old process of using a billing system that let them take notes electronically.

    That lag in adoption is typical for many in the behavioral health space, he said, in large part because the financial incentives offered under the federal Meaningful Use program did not extend to this class of providers.

    Studies show the extent of the lag. For example, a 2014 healthcare IT research study from the nonprofit Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) found that adoption of health IT among the state’s primary care and specialty care providers exceeded 90%, while other sectors, including behavioral health, had only a 55% adoption rate.

    Policymakers, medical leaders and healthcare IT advocates are working to increase adoption and use of EHRs and other technologies among behavioral health providers, several officials with the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) said during a recent conference call on the topic.

    Samantha Meklir, director of the ONC Division of Strategic Policy, said increasing EHR adoption and use among behavioral health providers is critical not only to improve patient care and generate efficiencies in that sector but to help ensure that such data eventually flows back to each patient’s primary care physician through data exchanges.

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