Health IT for Behavioral Health Professionals

Learn how you can use health information technology to improve efficiency in your behavioral health practice and coordinate your patients’ care.

Health IT can help behavioral health providers and professionals manage patient records and securely share information with patients, families, and other healthcare providers. As a healthcare professional, it’s important to understand the following health IT terms:

  • Electronic health records (EHRs) are secure digital versions of patients’ medical records.
  • Health information exchange (HIE) refers to both the action of electronically sharing patient information with other health care professionals, in compliance with national standards, and the organizations that securely transmit this data.

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Benefits for Practitioners

EHRs and HIEs benefit behavioral health professionals and the health system in many ways. These benefits include:

  • Enhanced quality and efficiency of service delivery
  • Fewer duplicate tests and more accurate treatment plans, which can reduce health system costs
  • Fewer paper records to secure and store
  • Quick access to patient health records, regardless of facility location
  • Improved accuracy and completeness of patient information
  • More time to spend with patients and less time completing paperwork
  • Reduced burden on patients to share paper records with multiple providers

Health IT also benefits your patients and their families. It offers them efficient, secure access to their health data and helps ensure that all of their healthcare providers have up-to-date information. Learn more about Health IT for patients and families.

Adoption Challenges

Although EHRs and HIEs can improve behavioral healthcare management, adopting health IT has been a challenge for behavioral providers and professionals.

One barrier to behavioral health IT adoption is a conflict between the technical capabilities of HIEs and the requirements of federal patient privacy regulations. The consent requirements of Confidentiality of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Patient Records, 42 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 2, known as 42 CFR Part 2, give patients the right not to share all of their protected health information related to substance use. Yet, most HIEs are unable to transmit a subset of information from a patient’s health record.

Further, many health IT systems can’t communicate with each other or interpret data from different systems.

Another barrier is the lack of federal financial incentive programs to encourage behavioral health professionals to use EHRs. Under the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs, other healthcare providers and facilities are eligible for incentive payments if they demonstrate “meaningful use” of health IT. However, behavioral health providers aren’t eligible to participate. This exclusion has caused the behavioral health field to lag behind the general healthcare field in EHR adoption.

For more information about meaningful use, access the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ guidance on program requirements and guidance for state programs (PDF | 160 KB).

Learn about SAMHSA’s efforts to overcome these barriers and support health IT integration in behavioral health.

Data Segmentation

Data segmentation is the process of identifying individual entries in a patient’s EHR. Data segmentation makes it possible to electronically share some parts of a patient’s record while withholding access to other parts.

Data segmentation helps providers comply with state and federal laws that require patient consent before sharing sensitive parts of their health information.

To enable data segmentation, SAMHSA developed a software application called Consent2Share. Patients can use Consent2Share to give providers their consent to share sensitive information and to indicate which information they want to share.

Consent2Share was developed as part of the Data Segmentation for Privacy (DS4P) Initiative at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. The DS4P Initiative demonstrates how to apply standards to support privacy policies for sharing sensitive health information between organizations. It was also created to develop standards that enable sensitive health information to be exchanged between authorized users.

Data Standards and Interoperability

To effectively exchange patient information, EHRs must meet a standard set of requirements. The rules for this process are known as interoperability standards.

These standards are governed by Health Level 7 International (HL7). HL7 is both an organization and a set of standards for exchanging patient data.

Examples of these standards include HL7 Version 2, Clinical Document Architecture (CDA), the Consolidated CDA (C-DA), and the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR).

Access SAMHSA’s publications and resources for more tools and guides to support health IT adoption.

Last Updated: 01/04/2017