How the marriage of primary care and behavioral health is driving the EHR industry

 As more primary care providers integrate behavioral health services into their practice, EHR platforms must evolve to meet the needs of healthcare providers and their patients.

The U.S. is suffering from a mental healthcare crisis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder each year, but less than half (47.2%) received treatment in 2021. These data points become even more devastating when you consider that suicide is the second leading cause of death among children age 10- to 14-years-old, with one in six kids age 6- to 17-years-old suffering from a mental health disorder every year.

The silver lining here, if there is one, is that deep-rooted stigmas attached to behavioral healthcare are finally losing their crushing grip on our patient populations as more people openly discuss mental health issues. Another step in the right direction: two years after the pandemic resulted in alarming waves of stress, anxiety, burnout, and depression, our federal government announced a strategy to tackle our national mental health crisis during the President’s first State of the Union address. A major component of the national strategy is the integration of behavioral health into primary care settings to make mental healthcare more accessible across patient demographics.

The marriage of primary care and behavioral health has put a spotlight on our healthcare technology frameworks. The industry's ability to move forward and support the seamless integration of behavioral health care into primary care settings is directly tied to our technology capabilities, from advancing telehealth services to the ever-evolving nature of interoperability. As more primary care practices make behavioral health a core element of the patient experience, medical office software and EHR platforms must catch up with industry trends.

The technological challenges of integrating behavioral health

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “limited technology adoption” is one of the most significant challenges to integrating behavioral health into a primary care setting. The cost-prohibitive nature of comprehensive healthcare IT platforms translates to massive technology gaps between primary care practices and the behavioral healthcare providers they are looking to onboard. The federal government has made clear that this challenge is a guiding principle when creating policies that support the integration of behavioral health services into primary care environments. But government-mandated measures will only take us so far.

EHR platforms and the engineering teams that develop healthcare technology must lean heavily into behavioral health integration trends if we want to fully support mental health initiatives. This begins with making interoperability a cornerstone of our healthcare technology systems. To fully embrace behavioral healthcare and expand mental health services, primary care practices must be able to connect their technology platforms to other healthcare systems, including other healthcare providers, hospital networks, payors, and insurance companies.

Beyond EHR: How technology will drive the healthcare industry forward

The exchange of accurate patient data is integral to achieving an exceptional patient experience, and only possible when our EHR systems are truly interoperable. But creating effective technological frameworks does not stop with EHRs and interoperability. A primary care practice must embrace technological advancements that make behavioral health more seamless.

A perfect example of such forward movement involves telehealth capabilities. Healthcare providers – especially those in the behavioral health space – need reliable and easy-to-use telehealth platforms that not only vastly improve behavioral health accessibility but provide a safe and secure environment for patients to discuss mental health issues and treatments. By building telehealth services into practice management solutions, we are giving practices necessary tools to expand their healthcare delivery models and better care for their patients.

Patient engagement solutions are also key to improving behavioral healthcare offerings. Patients want intuitive scheduling capabilities to set up appointments and digital payment options when paying their healthcare bills. They also want validation from their healthcare providers – just like everyone else, patients want to be seen, heard, and acknowledged by their medical team. One way to demonstrate your practice is patient-centered is by ensuring all patient communications, medical notes, and patient charts include the patient’s preferred name.

Using a patient’s preferred name throughout the practice’s healthcare tech stack can be challenging if a patient has changed their name midway through their relationship with a healthcare provider. Primary care practices need anchor healthcare platforms that allow healthcare providers and admin staff to easily save the new name across various platform functions, integrated apps, and patient demographic settings. Getting a patient’s name right across EHR functions, claims, billing and communications is the first step to accurate patient data.

The next frontier of healthcare: Wholly integrated and interoperable platforms

Addressing mental health issues is crucial to providing an integrated and holistic patient experience. Because mental health disorders often lead to physical ailments – NAMI reports that 40% of patients who suffer from depression have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases – behavioral health services can have a major impact on patient outcomes. But it will take more than simply hiring behavioral healthcare providers to integrate behavioral health into primary care environments.

Building a truly integrated and interoperable healthcare landscape means adopting EHR platforms and healthcare technology that supports behavioral health issues. A practice’s ability to address mental health disorders is directly connected to the practice’s technology platforms, from being able to accurately chart patient histories with correct CPT and HCPCS codes to offering best-in-class telehealth capabilities and preferred-name recognition features.

Patient-centric, value-based healthcare systems are only as successful as the technology that underpins our healthcare providers and networks. As part of the healthcare technology industry, it is on us to build and advance EHR platforms and medical office software solutions that support behavioral healthcare needs.

Amanda Hansen is president of AdvancedMD, South Jordan, Utah.

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