Is Meaningful Use For Mental Health Providers On The Way?

Posted on June 10, 2015 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

If you look at the policy statements issued by ONC, it sounds as though the organization is a big fan of putting behavioral health IT on the same footing as other aspects of care. As the agency itself points out, 46% of Americans will have a mental health disorder over the course of their lifetime, and 26% of Americans aged 18 and older live with a mental health disorder in any given year, which makes it imperative to address such issues systematically.

But as things stand, behavioral health IT initiatives aren’t likely to go far. True, ONC has encouraged behavioral health stakeholders on integrating their data with primary care data, stressed the value of using EMRs for consent management, supported the development of behavioral health clinical quality measures and even offered vendor guidelines on creating certified EMR tech for providers ineligible for Meaningful Use. But ONC hasn’t actually suggested that these folks deserve to be integrated into the MU program. And not too surprisingly, given their ineligibility for incentive checks, few mental health providers have invested in EMRs.

However, a couple of House lawmakers who seem pretty committed to changing the status quo are on the case. Last week, Reps. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) have reintroduced a bill which would include a new set of behavioral health and substance abuse providers on the list of those eligible for Meaningful Use incentives.

The bill, “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act,” would make clinical psychologists and licensed social workers eligible to get MU payments. What’s more, it would make mental health treatment facilities, psychiatric hospitals and substance abuse mistreatment facilities eligible for incentives.

Supporters like the Behavioral Health IT Coalition say such an expansion could provide many benefits, including integration of psych and mental health in primary care, improved ability of hospital EDs to triage patients and reduction of adverse drug-to-drug interactions and needless duplicative tests. Also, with interoperable healthcare data on the national agenda, one would think that bringing a very large and important sector into the digital fold would be an obvious move.

So as I see it, making it possible for behavioral health and other medical providers can share data is simply a no-brainer.  But that can’t happen until these providers implement EMRs. And as previous experience has demonstrated, that’s not going to happen until some version of Meaningful Use incentives are available to them.

I imagine that the bill has faltered largely over the cost of implementing it. While I haven’t seen an estimate of what it would cost to expand eligibility to these new parties, I admit it’s likely to be very substantial. But right now the U.S. health system is bearing the cost of poorly coordinated care administered to about one-quarter of all U.S. adults over age 18. That’s got to be worse.