Mental Health EMRs And MIPS – MACRA Monday

Posted on September 18, 2017 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 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.

This post is part of the MACRA Monday series of blog posts where we dive into the details of the MACRA Quality Payment Program (QPP) and related topics.

Recently, I began researching the mental health EMR market on behalf of a client. I had expected to find it dwindling as a) the big EMR players have always insisted that an all-purpose EMR could be adapted to serve mental health providers effectively and b) more importantly because mental health professionals weren’t eligible for Meaningful Use payments, which presumably made them lousy sales targets for vendors.

However, my research concluded that there’s roughly a dozen mental health EMRs out there and kicking and that at least two large medical EMR vendors had bought into the mental health technology niche. (Allscripts bought a stake in NetSmart Technologies last year, and Cerner acquired Anasazi outright in 2012). With their investments, the two vendors effectively admitted that supporting mental health providers wasn’t as easy as they’d suggested.

Now, with MIPS imposing new demands on clinicians, mental health providers are likely to expect even more from mental health IT vendors, said Bob Ring, a consultant with Mica Information Systems.

Right now, few mental health EMRs defining themselves as “therapy specific” are CEHRT technology, which could become an issue if MDs on staff in a mental health setting want to meet MIPS requirements, Ring notes.

Under MIPS, psychiatrists must provide a wide range of mental health-specific data, some of which calls for specialty-related technology. For example, one category under the Clinical Practice Improvement Activity Performance Category calls for enhancements to an EMR to capture added data on behavioral health populations and use that data for additional decision-making.

But uncertified EMRs are likely to stay that way, Ring says. “Because these therapy-specific [EMRs] are generally priced very low, and it is expensive to go through the ONC certification process, it’s questionable whether many of them ever will be,” he concludes.

Not only that, things could get even trickier for both mental health clinicians and mental health EMR vendors in the future, if CMS follows through on its threat to hold therapists to the same standards as MDs beginning in 2019.

This could create chaos, however, according to my colleague John Lynn, who contends that putting mental health therapy EMRs under MIPS would be “a disaster.” Instead, mental health should not piggyback MU or MIPS, but instead, focus on incentives for mental health focused EHR incentives.

“The relationship between a mental health provider and a client is totally different than the relationship between a medical provider and their patient,” said John, whose first EMR implementation came when he rolled out a medical EMR in a health and counseling center. “Their methods of documentation are different. Their methods of billing are different. Their approach to care is different. We made it work, but it took a lot of duct tape and jerry rigging to fit it in.”