News Feature | August 12, 2014

Will The Meaningful Use Program Be Extended To Behavioral Health?

By Megan Williams, contributing writer

Meaningful Use Program Behavioral Health

A new world of Meaningful Use is set to open up for VARs, and it comes from the behavioral health arena.

Meaningful Use has proven to be both opportunity and challenge for solutions providers — it has meant more clients interested in EHR application, but has also brought with it hurdles in the form of fees and new standards some solutions providers have had trouble responding to. Behavioral health has historically been an area that didn’t fall under the umbrella of traditional health care, but as attitudes around behavioral and mental health are changing, and the segment itself grows and becomes more complex, we’re seeing movement in not only reimbursement structure, but in the technology and regulations around it.

Government Plans

The Behavioral Health Information Technology Act of 2012 (H.R. 6043) was introduced with bi-partisan support and with the goal of amending who exactly qualified as an “eligible professional” in the Meaningful Use program. It, like its predecessor, (S. 539), aimed to extend the reach of the healthcare initiative to behavioral and mental health professionals, substance abuse professionals, clinical psychologists, licensed social workers, psychiatric hospitals, community mental health centers, residential mental health treatment facilities, outpatient mental health treatment facilities, and substance abuse facilities. This extension, according to AHIMA, also intended to extend eligibility for assistance from the health IT regional extension centers to specified behavioral health providers.

As things stand now, behavioral health providers looking to qualify for Meaningful Use must work through currently covered physicians and nurse practitioners with whom they are affiliated.

Industry Support

The American Psychological Association has also voiced support for extension of incentive programs, releasing this article, stating that Congress should make psychiatrists eligible for HITECH incentive payments, through the passage of The Behavioral health Information Technology Act of 2013 (S. 1517/H.R. 2957).

According to Politico, mental health providers pleaded with Congress (July 22, 2014) to pass laws (five bills in total) that would extend Meaningful Use payments to their job, citing that they are underfunded and “suffering from faulty connections to other health care providers”. Alfonso Guida of the Behavioral health IT Coalition is quoted saying that “It was a mistake to leave us out of Meaningful Use. Now we’re trying to correct that.”

Politico also states that 70 percent of patients with illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have other, chronic, physical conditions such as diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, or cancer, and that the cost of treating these conditions is two to four times higher in mental health populations.

Where Do VARs Come In?

While the previous laws discussed have not yet been passed, it’s to your benefit to maintain an understanding of what government IT incentives mean in the world of behavioral health. As with IT in traditional physical health, it’s all about bringing your clients benefits. To get started, familiarize yourself with some of the benefits that EHRs can bring behavioral health environments (below) and read more on our coverage of the topic here.

  • Meaningful Use Benefits: Congress is once again considering extending Meaningful Use to behavioral health facilities. Now is the time to start considering implementation.
  • Client And Family Empowerment: This will hinge on design, but a well-built system will support better information capture, and allow behavioral health providers improved documentation that will in turn, benefit clients and their families and care givers.
  • Better Clinician Communication: Clinician-to-clinician communication can be streamlined with the informational abilities of a properly planned EHR system.
  • Interoperability: For behavioral health, this means better information exchange with physical care entities like hospitals and physicians. They will end up with a more objective and better detailed picture of the clients they serve, leading to more informed care decisions.