Despite the growing significance of electronic health record systems and the exchange of electronic patient information through health information exchanges, there are still some providers that have been slow to adopt these important technologies. Particularly for behavioral health providers, specific concerns that impact the mental health field have made the transition to electronic records more difficult. Strict privacy and confidentiality laws unique to the field have made the process for sharing patient information electronically more complex. Additionally, the information technology infrastructure and financial incentives that have supported primary care and specialty providers in their transition to electronic records in recent years have been less robust for behavioral health providers.
Still, achieving health information exchange between physical and behavioral health providers remains essential in providing quality healthcare. Viewing a patients’ full medical history enables clinicians access to information critical for a comprehensive diagnosis, and understanding a patients’ progress, or lack thereof, essential for designing an effective treatment plan. Furthermore, there are implications for patient safety, care coordination and health care costs.
Recognizing these challenges and opportunities, Washtenaw County Community Mental Health (CMH) has been a state and national leader in bridging behavioral and physical health through its integrated health efforts for over 10 years, and was one of the first behavioral health organizations in the nation to share behavioral health information through a health information exchange. In recent years, the two-way sharing of information they have achieved between their behavioral health providers and University of Michigan physical health providers is quickly improving quality of care, enhancing patient safety, and reducing costs in Washtenaw County. Their work has been innovative and impressive, and has not gone without notice.
In an exciting new federally-funded effort, Washtenaw County CMH will have the opportunity to expand this important work, assisting community healthcare and social service providers to improve the exchange of information between behavioral health, physical health, and social service providers at three community, safety net organizations in Washtenaw County: Packard Health Clinic, Avalon Housing, and The Shelter Association of Washtenaw County Health Clinic. Washtenaw CMH will be supported in this effort by The Great Lakes Health Connect (a Michigan health information exchange), PCE Systems (a provider of electronic health record solutions to Michigan’s behavioral health organizations), and by the Michigan Center for Effective IT Adoption at Altarum Institute.
The Michigan Center for Effective IT Adoption will provide the in-office support necessary to assist providers and staff at Packard Health Clinic, Avalon Housing, and the Shelter Association to understand the benefits of health information sharing on quality of care and patient safety, implement necessary procedures to collect patient consent by using a statewide standard behavioral health consent form, and optimize their use of available health information and exchange technology. M-CEITA will use experience and expertise gained in the Michigan Regional Extension Center Program to offer the education, training, and technical assistance needed to support Washtenaw County CMH and its community partners in this important endeavor.
Ultimately, the program aims to demonstrate the importance and added value of information exchange between behavioral and physical health providers. Facilitating this exchange is a necessary step toward a future of comprehensive care coordination and engagement of an often complex and costly patient population. Integration and coordination of care will positively affect both physical health and life expectancy outcomes for people receiving services in the public behavioral health system.