Five essential EHR features for behavioral & mental health practices

Behavioral and mental health practices require unique EHR features compared to other specialties or general medical practices.

Specifically, behavioral, and mental health practices have different requirements regarding how they use clinical data.

As noted in this article from the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, the primary differences between each practice’s EHR requirements rest in the type of data they use:

"behavioral health and primary care differ in their language, classifications, codes, data reporting requirements and regulations."

Behavioral and mental health practices collect more intensive data resulting from screening tools and from ongoing treatment. Further, these practices largely depend on effective care coordination across clinical settings and patient engagement to achieve positive clinical outcomes, but are also subject to more data privacy laws that go above and beyond HIPAA’s requirements.    

Given these differences, behavioral and mental health practices should look for EHR systems aligned with these unique needs. When selecting an EHR, the following five EHR features should be viewed as essential:   

Care coordination

The care behavioral and mental health practices provide depends on coordinating with other providers. Therefore, the ability to share records is vital to this mission.

Mental illness is often a comorbid condition with other types of chronic illnesses, particularly patients suffering from obesity, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease. As such, a mental and behavioral health practice should be able to seamlessly share EHR records with other providers.

Billing coordination

According to a survey conducted by EHR vendor Valant, “the most common survey response (40% of survey respondents) was that collaborating with external resources for billing or care was the biggest organizational challenge.”

Just as coordinating care is an important aspect of behavioral and mental health services, an EHR with practice management capabilities can eliminate some of the administrative problems these practices face.

Clinical decision support tools

One of the foundations of behavioral and mental health practice involves the use of behavioral health screening and assessment tools and the close monitoring of patient progress in other care settings.

Guide: 40 features to look for in your next EHR

As such, practices can benefit from clinical decision support tools which take clinical data and provide alerts and reminders, diagnostic support, clinical guidelines, focused patient data reports and summaries and reference information.

Medication management and monitoring

As mental illness often occurs comorbid with physical illness, behavioral and mental health practices must rely on EHR features which allow them to monitor the medications patients are taking and be alerted if the risk of a harmful drug interaction is present.

Patient engagement

In the behavioral and mental health setting patient engagement is vital in achieving clinical goals.

An EHR that allows a free flow of information between patient and provider communication can facilitate greater compliance with treatment, particularly with medication adherence and can play a vital role in facilitating patients’ ability to take an active role in their own care.

Patient engagement features should also allow for a way for patients to take an active role in appointment scheduling and offer a user-friendly messaging system.

At their core, EHRs are generally comparable, however when moving beyond core features, specialty practices, such as behavioral and mental health practices should consider their patient base and how an EHR can facilitate providing care in a way that enhances the mission of providing behavioral and mental health treatment.

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Jeff Green

About the author…

Jeff Green, MPH, JD works as a freelance writer and consultant in the Healthcare information Technology Space.

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Jeff Green