The Importance of EHR Interoperability to Mental Health Treatment

How well do your electronic medical records play with others? This is a crucial question that determines the degree to which behavioral health providers will be integrated into 21st century health care, though few are asking it. Turns out, it could be one of the most important questions you could ask your practice and your partners as you invest in evolving health information technology.

Our health care system is at a tipping point, facing unprecedented opportunities in clinical transformation that will redefine what it means to practice psychiatry. National incentives to implement electronic health records (EHRs) have achieved wide-scale adoption, facilitating a new way of practicing and organizing clinical information. The market has expanded several-fold for EHRs over the past decade to meet this growing demand for implementation. 

Consequently, many mental health centers have invested significant capital into EHR systems that are tailored for mental health and substance-abuse specific fields. While on the surface this may seem like an advantage, such systems may only further stigmatize and alienate those with behavioral health disorders and those who treat them from the rest of the health care world.  Fortunately there’s a way out: It’s called interoperability.

Under current standards, few incentives exist to get EHRs to play nicely with each other and share data. Why would they? Epic, Cerner and other software platforms desperately want as much market share as they can grab. If they program their systems to share data freely and securely, they lose patients, clinicians and practices to competitors. 

The ability to share data between EHRs using a common language is known as interoperabililty, and it’s one of the essential benefits of digitizing our clinical data. A hospital needs to be able to send notices to primary care offices when a patient has been admitted and discharged regardless of whether or not they’re on the same EHR platform, and the same should be true for patients admitted to a mental health hospital. In fact, all members of the health care team should be included in those communications. But segregated records and lack of interoperability make this an impossible feat.