Top Features to Look for in a Behavioral Health EMR/EHR
by Core Solutions on September 6, 2022
Meaningful use of financial incentives has made EMR/EHR use the norm across much of the healthcare industry. Yet those left out, such as mental health, I/DD, and substance use organizations, are still catching up. It may come as no surprise that behavioral health providers and psychiatrists have the lowest EHR adoption rate at 61.3%, compared to office-based cardiologists who had the highest adoption rate at 95.6%, according to a survey sponsored by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC).
Identify technology competencies that will best serve your behavioral health organization with our guide, The Ultimate Guide to Behavioral Health EHR Selection.
Yet the advantages of technology adoption in behavioral health settings are many. The right technology can improve organizational efficiency, increase access to staff, and aid financial performance.
With this in mind, this article discusses the importance of EMR/EHR use in behavioral settings and what behavioral health organizations should look for among technology options to ensure the best benefits when treating clients.
The Changing Face of Behavioral Health EMR/EHR Use
Aside from lack of financial incentives, low EMR/EHR adoption rates in behavioral health also can be attributed to providers having unique needs compared to other specialties, particularly due to regulations and requirements around the use of clinical data.
While a general EMR/EHR could be customized to try and fill in the gaps, such as through the use of psychiatry EMR templates, a specialized behavioral health EMR/EHR is built with the full picture of care in mind. Latest technologies built for behavioral health providers can help with anything from coordinating services to improving health outcomes with the right data capture. These technologies are a significant investment and it is important to not just meet today’s needs, but also to anticipate and adapt to future needs. Here is where an EMR/EHR built specifically for behavioral health will make the most difference.
5 Features to Look for in a Behavioral Health EMR/EHR
Behavioral health practices that want to implement an EMR/EHR should consider the “future readiness” of their new system. When looking for a behavioral health EMR/EHR, consider the following features.
1. Support for evidence-based practices and decision support to improve measurable outcomes
Evidence-based practices are interventions that have been proven, with consistent scientific evidence, to improve outcomes. Behavioral health providers should look for an EMR/EHR that provides support for evidence-based practices without disrupting their preferred workflow. For example, providers should be able to track patient progress within the EMR/EHR, such as through the use of PHQ-9 questionnaires. The provider should be able to look at a graph of a patient's scores over time to determine whether they are making progress and make adjustments to the treatment plan as needed. Behavioral health/psychiatry EMR templates should be integrated into the system to enable efficient chart evaluation, follow-ups, medication management, and more.
2. Ease of adjusting to changing reimbursement landscape
Providers participating in value-based reimbursement contracts with payers need to be able to conduct target costing and model risk. Providers need to be able to determine margins and profitability when providing services and negotiating rates. Even performance under traditional fee-for-service contracts can benefit from EHR/EMR use. The scheduling system should be embedded in the platform and capture appropriate billing data from the scheduler. The platform should provide documentation prompts and guidance into the EMR/EHR. Session information should automatically be carried over from the scheduler and the progress note, so the practice can generate an accurate and complete claim. Being able to generate clean claims also helps support prompt payment and increased cash flow.
3. Risk identification and steerage
Risk identification is critical in behavioral health, but it is usually derived from claims or encounter data. Providers should be able to develop a risk model using data available in the EMR/EHR. With the right technology, providers can set risk scores, using past suicide attempts, comorbidities, or other parameters, and the system should be able to alert providers to patients who should be triaged for immediate care and appropriate follow-up. Risk stratification allows the organization to adjust resources to those most in need of care.
4. Embedded telehealth
The COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the benefits and importance of telehealth, especially in response to access challenges. Often, individuals who live in rural or low-income areas are unable to access behavioral health services due to provider staffing shortages, long waitlists for services, or long travel distances. During the pandemic, depression, anxiety, and substance use skyrocketed. But, according to the Health Resources & Services Administration, 153 million people live in areas with high shortages of mental health professionals, making access to services difficult, if not impossible.
Telehealth expands a provider’s reach and can improve access to care for those who do not have physical access to a provider. Of particular benefit is the ability to have telehealth embedded into the behavioral health EMR/EHR to reduce the number of time clinicians spend switching between systems or troubleshooting—time that can be better spent with the patient. This provides a seamless experience for providers who have already become comfortable with the EMR/EHR.
5. Enhanced business intelligence capabilities
To improve operations and outcomes, as well as better manage costs to support profitability, behavioral health practices need to be able to track and analyze the performance metrics that matter most to them. These can include clinician performance, claims denial management, or shifts in patient population health. Analytics reports should be available in real-time and driven by role-based access rules so only the appropriate staff members are able to view them.
A behavioral health EMR/EHR should go beyond just record-keeping if it is going to be truly beneficial to a practice. It should be able to scale with the practice and its patient population and provide capabilities that help improve outcomes.
How Can the Right EHR Help Your Behavioral Health Organization?
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