Survey highlights IT gap between general, psychiatric healthcare

By Molly Merrill
10:12 AM

Lack of financing has caused mental health and human services to lag far behind general healthcare in access to health information technology, according to a national survey of more than 400 organizations.

The Behavioral Health/Human Services Information Systems Survey was conducted by the Centerstone Research Institute on behalf of the Mental Health Corporations of America, National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare and Software and Technology Vendors Association and involved 440 organizations representing varied segments in the behavioral health and human services field.

The survey revealed that mental health/addictions services spend only half as much as primary care on healthcare IT and employ only about a third as many IT professionals. Fewer than half of all behavioral health and human services providers have fully implemented clinical electronic record systems.

Most of these providers expect to spend even less on healthcare IT next year on account of budget cuts, reduced reimbursements and higher patient volume, the survey indicated. However, if resources were made available, overall healthcare IT spending would increase.

"Health information technologies can help serve more patients more effectively and better meet the growing need for psychiatric services," said Mark Covall, president and CEO of the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems, in response to the survey findings. "The significant investment that has already been made by providers is evidence of the field's commitment to technology. But we can't keep up unless dollars are available on par with the rest of healthcare."

The public mental health and addictions services safety net is currently not eligible for the Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement incentives under the HITECH Act.

"Mental health and addiction services get short shrift yet again even as we confirm that HIT is the cornerstone of efforts to coordinate services among healthcare specialties," said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. "Mental and addiction disorders are often chronic conditions, and HIT can coordinate care and save and improve lives."

"The organizations that sponsored this survey are engaged in ongoing dialogue with legislators and policy makers on behalf of the millions who would benefit from quality care facilitated by HIT funding and advancements, and we encourage others to join us in this important effort," said Kevin Scalia, chair of the Software and Technology Vendors Association and executive vice president of corporate development for Netsmart Technologies.

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