Behavioral Health IT: Why It is the Way of the Future

April 22, 2021 - by Synoptek

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Of the many changes that 2020 has brought about, remote healthcare has become an incredibly large component of how people receive their healthcare. Today, patients across the world want to receive as much care as they can remotely, in the comfort of their homes – without having to physically travel to a hospital, interact with staff, or take the risk of contracting the virus. Although efforts are already underway towards improving how telehealth is delivered and consumed, one area in particular that should be streamlined, however, is behavioral health. Read on to learn why well-designed, user-friendly interfaces, efficient clinical processes, secure and easily accessible platforms, and accurate documentation is critical.

The Current State of Behavioral Health Information Technology

Behavioral health issues are on the rise; it is estimated that a majority of adults suffer from several behavioral health issues over the course of their lifetime: from anxiety and depression to eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, substance use, and bipolar disorder. According to a report, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the mental health of 59% of people in the United States alone. These issues not only hamper day-to-day well-being, they are also known to reduce life expectancy and increase overall health care costs.

Despite this, behavioral health Information Technology, although critical in a post-COVID era, is extremely disarrayed and disorganized. Here is what the current state of behavioral health Information Technology looks like:

  • Social Stigma: Although healthcare is increasingly being made easily accessible and affordable to the masses, when it comes to behavioral health, there is still immense social stigma attached. Knowing that people with mental health issues do not always seek treatment, organizations do not invest in implementing or updating their behavioral health IT systems.
  • Knowledge Gaps: Despite the fact that modern technology is being used to improve behavioral health practices, most of it is either outdated or not brought to patients in need.
  • Inaccessibility: Another major challenge that comes with behavioral health information technology is sheer inaccessibility to the required facilities. Most institutions providing mental health services do not have the capability to take care of the rising demand.
  • Workforce Shortages: There is also the challenge of shortage of qualified healthcare IT workers; in the absence of the right tools, it becomes difficult for health specialists to share information on the latest trends and practices with others – causing a huge gap in the demand-supply chain.
  • Payment Challenges: Traditional fee-for-service payment models further restrict patients from opting for behavioral health services. Today’s tech-savvy patients prefer managed care models for mental health services, as it allows them access to required care as and when needed – but is seldom offered by healthcare organizations.

Bringing Your Healthcare Organization’s Strategy Up to Date

The use of health information technology in general health care has facilitated the delivery of safe, high-quality, and cost-effective care. However, its application in behavioral healthcare has been rather slow, limiting the extent to which patients seek care for mental health or other behavioral issues. Given the far-reaching impact of the pandemic on behavioral health, there is an urgent need for bringing the healthcare organization’s strategy up to date. This includes:

  • Making necessary changes to health infrastructure: Ensuring patients with mental disorders have timely access to quality care, a strong national health information infrastructure needs to be created, with health IT fully integrated within this network. Having critical patient health information in a single place can allow doctors to be well aware of physical and mental health conditions and pave the way for better diagnosis and treatment – based on the overall health of the patient.
  • Enabling better integration: To improve access to behavioral healthcare, organizations must take steps to include behavioral health in the overall healthcare strategy. They need to make several policy changes to enable safe and better integration between behavioral health and primary care using a modern mix of disparate technologies at virtually every point in the health care process.
  • Structuring and standardizing data: Another way to bring the healthcare organization’s strategy up-to-date is by having systems in place that capture health information in a structured and standardized format and improve communication between different care providers. Since patients interact with various healthcare providers in the care continuum – right from physicians to lab technicians, such standardization can allow for behavioral health information to be represented at the same depth and breadth as other medical information.

The Keys to a Successful Behavioral Health IT Experience

Technology can play a critical role in improving behavioral health care and further enabling care coordination through increased collaboration, integration, and information sharing. With the right technology in place, healthcare organizations can not only ensure continuity in care services but also drive efforts toward building an interoperable, highly available, and highly secure healthcare system across the care continuum. The keys to a successful behavioral health IT experience include:

  • Making use of modern clinical information systems for comprehensive clinical documentation and decision-making. Such systems can not only help in capturing physical health data, they can also keep a close tab on mental health conditions, allowing doctors to proactively offer behavioral healthcare.
  • Leveraging the capabilities of connected healthcare to empower patients, enhance engagement, and improve access to care. As patients get more and more involved in how care is delivered, connected health tools can allow patients to receive behavioral healthcare in the most proactive and efficient manner.
  • Unearthing insights as quickly and efficiently as possible from across the healthcare lifecycle. As patient data gets increasingly stored myriad siloed EMRs, legacy systems, files, and applications, creating a data-driven culture from strategy to implementation can allow for behavioral health data to be integrated from various sources, thus leading to timely and accurate analysis.
  • Offering modern self-service capabilities to keep up with evolving patient expectations and the shifting regulation landscape. Given that many patients still refrain from seeking behavioral healthcare, self-service tools can allow them to carry out self-diagnosis, home check-ins, and digital billing as well as read about behavioral health symptoms, causes, and possible treatments.
  • Opting for the expertise of qualified healthcare IT providers who can deliver HIPAA-compliant healthcare information technology solutions such as on-site staff augmentation, 24×7 help desk, hosted communication services, and remote and collocated infrastructure. Under the support and guidance of an expert provider, organizations can make the required changes to IT infrastructure, policies, processes and ensure they are as much in alignment with behavioral health as they are with physical health.

With behavioral health issues on the rise, healthcare organizations need to think of ways in which they can adopt Information Technology to deliver a digital-first, patient-centric healthcare experience. Given that stigma around behavioral health, there is a pressing need for healthcare organizations to leverage modern behavioral health Information Technology systems and solutions and enhance the safety, effectiveness, and personalization of behavioral healthcare.