A new political era, but no reason to retreat from behavioral health IT benefits

It’s the season of post-campaign predictions. This week, most healthcare IT fortune tellers and sages are taking a shot at predicting what Trump will do with healthcare in general and healthcare IT specifically.

The (sort of) verdict?

For the most part, few believe the president-elect will make dramatic changes to Meaningful Use and HITECH. He didn’t mention them during the campaign. (The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, he mentioned a lot, but that’s a different story.)

Even so, it’s still hard to believe a President Trump and Republican Congress will authorize more money for EHRs in mental health facilities. After the campaign, it’s hard to envision more spending on anything unrelated to the military, illegal immigration, infrastructure and maybe indicting Hillary Clinton.

Mental health organizations should not be deterred from acquiring a complete EHR, even though federal help may not be on the way. With attention to specific strategies—some of which focus on improving organizational function and not specifically EHR acquisition—cost-conscious mental health organizations can acquire a healthcare IT system without engaging in financial risk.

  1. Don’t buy software. In more technologically sophisticated industries, the idea of buying software and loading it on your computer is nearing extinction. In its place is software-as-a-service (SaaS), also sometimes called web-based, on-demand or hosted software. SaaS removes the challenges of paying huge sums upfront for software, acquiring expensive hardware and going through the lengthy and tedious implementation process.

    The SaaS approach gives smaller organizations access to enterprise grade hardware that would normally be unaffordable and makes it possible to acquire comprehensive EHRs you can pay for from the operating budget.

  2. Invest in revenue cycle solutions and services. When evaluating EHR providers, don’t focus only on the clinical side of the system. Implementation and maximization of revenue cycle solutions, services and practices dovetails nicely with adoption of an EHR and establishes the technological foundation for improved financial performance.

    Robust revenue cycle support reduces overhead, ensures rapid and accurate billing of payers and patients, and tracks performance indicators. The combination of a subscription service EHR and better revenue cycle management creates the potential for healthcare IT adoption that doesn’t expand the overall working budget.

  3. Choose a solution with specific behavioral health functionality. You already know that treatment of mental illness is not the same as caring for physical health. Make sure your prospective EHR vendor knows that as well as you do. In an inpatient mental health environment, caring for patients is often a team task, so make sure the EHR you consider enables every member of the team to both access and contribute to a treatment plan.

  4. Become intimately familiar with mental health parity laws and payer policies. Yes, mental health parity is federal law, but we’re not yet at a place where the law is being observed and respected equally by all payers. Familiarize yourself with both the law and the existing policies of the major payers so you can anticipate what will and will not be covered, and so you can go to bat for patients when insurers are not paying for things the law says they should.

    As with selecting a revenue cycle solution, knowing what is and should be covered gives your organization the knowledge required to tailor solutions and ensure you don’t provide are that won’t be reimbursed.

  5. Choose an EHR vendor organization that you know will be your partner. In every facet of healthcare, collaboration is the trait that best serves the patient. As a behavioral health care provider, you know that coordination among all members of the care team yields the most positive results.

    That same spirit of shared responsibility is not always evident in relationships between providers and IT vendors. Some are interested more in constraining your choices than enabling them; others simply install the system without offering sufficient training or suggestions about how to change what you do to maximize system efficacy. Make sure that, through your extensive due diligence and in-depth review, you and your vendor share a similar commitment to quality care and customer service excellence.

invariably, your organization is going to want to pursue strategies unique to your facility and staff. Whatever these may be, you’ll find them to be much more successful if you circulate the ideas extensively before starting active pursuit. Create buy-in amongst all constituents so that no one is unaware and feels left out, which invariably causes resentment.

The healthcare IT trade publications are regularly filled with stories about multi-million dollar contracts and significant cost overruns. Don’t be frightened. Many of your fellow behavioral health colleagues have already acquired an EHR and are making it work by pursuing specific purchase strategies combined with organizational priorities. Look around and you’ll see plenty of proof that your organization can achieve the same goals.

D'Arcy Gue is Director of Industry Relations for Medsphere Systems Corporation. 


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