Why EHR Integration Matters for Behavioral Health

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Health information technology plays a critical role in the transformation of behavioral health care. Advances in IT have led to the creation of software solutions that allow for integrated systems and digital records, offering better clinical workflow processes and access to crucial clinical data both for a single provider and between providers. 

Behavioral health care providers can make strides toward integrating with primary care providers by implementing these technology solutions to improve patient engagement via patient portals, ensuring effective patient care, improving care coordination, and advancing overall population health. Such integrations create an efficient system that can provide better treatment outcomes while also reducing costs.

This article explores the importance of electronic health record (EHR) integration in behavioral health settings and provides strategies to integrate EHRs with other essential digital information systems needed for comprehensive data and practice management.

An Overview of Electronic Health Records

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Electronic health records are a type of software used in hospitals and doctors' offices to organize medical data, including medical history, physician notes and instructions, prescriptions, test results, and other relevant patient data. They let health care organizations manage and store patient records electronically as opposed to on paper charts. 

EHRs contain patient information that multiple medical professionals can access. This allows a provider to compare a patient's treatment plan with that patient’s treatments from other providers. It’s especially important with the rising rate of telehealth adoption, as it enables access to more of a patient's health information.

EHRs streamline the process by which physicians access a patient's complete medical history. To meet HIPAA compliance requirements, many health care organizations rely on electronic health record technology to manage patient data within an integrated system of applications that can be accessed securely from any location via the internet.

Integration and Interoperability in Behavioral Health 

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Many medical practitioners use electronic medical records (EMRs) to keep track of their patients' health and overall well-being. The problem is that these EMRs are often incompatible with each other, so a patient's data might be scattered across multiple records. This isn't only inconvenient but it can also have serious implications for patient safety.

Health care interoperability, or the ability of different health care providers to share information with each other, is necessary for care coordination. It’s a key part of how primary care clinicians and health care providers ensure patients receive coordinated, holistic care. 

However, health care interoperability challenges abound, making behavioral health more difficult to manage. For example, patients with substance use disorders may be hesitant to share their problems with their behavioral health providers. If this is the case, providers cannot make an accurate assessment of these patients' needs. 

These interoperability challenges are the driving force behind the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)'s Promoting Interoperability program, an initiative that incentivizes health care providers to adopt and implement interoperable electronic health record (EHR) systems. These can be facilitated using application programming interfaces (APIs) to streamline administrative operations and ease patient access to their medical records through patient portals.

Differences Between EHR Integration and EHR Interoperability

While EHR integration and EHR interoperability are essential in the efficient exchange of patient data across health care systems, it’s important to note the differences between integration and interoperability, as they don’t mean the same thing.

Integration‌ brings information from various sources together in order to understand it all better. For example, integration might allow one system to analyze data from another. In integration, there is some sort of interpretation taking place. Integration with EHRs helps improve continuity of care by allowing behavioral health providers access to lab results in real time, improving patient safety by reducing delays in diagnoses or clinical decision-making resulting from a lack of timely access.

Interoperability refers to the ability of systems to exchange data with one another, allowing for communication between different software platforms. With interoperable solutions, organizations can reduce their reliance on legacy systems and become more efficient. While it's crucial for electronic health records from different EHR vendors to be interoperable, it's equally important that there is data integration with the rest of an organization's digital infrastructure.

In essence, EHR integration is the ability of health IT solutions to work together within the same organization. EHR interoperability is about making sure primary care and behavioral health EHR systems can communicate with one another.

Types of Digital Health Information Systems

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Most people are familiar with electronic medical records and electronic health records. However, there are several other types of digital systems that help the health care industry function efficiently. These include medical billing software, patient scheduling software, and human capital management software.

Human capital management systems are not usually integrated into the workflow of medical health care systems, but they should be. Human capital management is essential for medical health systems because it provides a framework for aligning people, processes, and technology to achieve clinical, operational, and financial excellence. Without it, organizations cannot maximize organizational performance. 

Medical Billing Software

Medical billing is a complicated process. It involves insurance claims and medical coding. A variety of medical practitioners and agencies use medical billing software to bill and document services rendered accurately. 

While great strides have been made in medical billing, a few factors still make it difficult for medical offices to efficiently keep track of their bills. Inaccurate claims are one major issue. For example, using paper records with handwritten notes can lead to mistakes or omissions that can delay payment. Electronic claims submitted through an online portal may not be processed correctly and may require additional work by the provider. 

The process can be even more complicated when the provider needs to submit claims for patients covered by Medicare or Medicaid. For patients who require the service of multiple providers, they must all submit their own claim with varying degrees of accuracy. The result is that providers often wait months for payment from insurance companies. Medical billing software can streamline this process by reducing human error and increasing efficiency at every stage of the claim submission process.

Patient Scheduling Software

Health care scheduling software offers immense benefits to medical offices — first and foremost, it allows you to manage appointment requests efficiently. It also allows for more professional communication with patients by providing them with access to their own scheduling and making it easier for them to maintain their schedules.

The system allows employees to access and search for open appointment times, keep track of patients' information, and view staff schedules. The software can also ‌set up automated reminders for follow-up appointments.

Human Capital Management Software

Human capital management (HCM) systems include a set of tools and processes designed to help improve the effectiveness of your staff. Human resource departments use HCM systems to manage employee information. The human side of organizations is the focus of human capital management. It covers people issues such as recruitment, hiring, training and development, compensation, benefits, performance appraisal, and rewards, as well as more general business functions like strategic planning, marketing, and accounting. 

In behavioral health, HCM systems help maximize the return on investment in human capital. This means getting the most out of your employees' abilities while minimizing the cost of work-related stress and dissatisfaction. In turn, this results in increased productivity and profitability for your organization.

A properly implemented HCM program will help in three ways:

  • Saves time and money by minimizing employee turnover and absenteeism.
  • Makes your workforce more effective by matching employees' skills with jobs that suit their talents and interests.
  • Helps you attract, retain, and develop employees, which can reduce training costs in the long run.

As behavioral health organizations adopt the use of electronic health record systems, it’s essential to consider how implementing a human capital management system can streamline processes by automating data collection, improving efficiency in communication between staff members, and reducing paperwork. The improved efficiencies can lead to increased staff productivity and enhanced patient outcomes while further integrating behavioral health care into the overall health care delivery system.

Benefits of HCM and EHR Integration for Health Care

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Integrating electronic health records and human capital management systems results in many benefits, such as cost savings, ease of access to patient information, compliance with federal mandates, and increased quality of care for patients. In an age when behavioral health organizations are facing constant challenges to provide services with less funding and staff shortages, these benefits are especially important:

  • HCM system and EHR integration provides a single source of information for behavioral health care organizations to store patient information, measure productivity and quality care, and track and report on outcomes. It also improves operational efficiencies. These systems allow behavioral health providers to leverage their data, facilitate care transitions, and reduce redundancies between departments in order to deliver comprehensive care to their patients.
  • HCM systems offer an excellent way to integrate EHRs with workforce management systems to collect data across different areas of your organization more efficiently and effectively.
  • Health care is an industry with considerable regulatory and compliance pressures. As a result, health care organizations must carefully monitor operations to ensure compliance with federal requirements. In order to bill for services provided to patients, behavioral health organizations must comply with strict guidelines set forth by the Medicare/Medicaid laws and regulatory bodies. Having all information in one place makes it easier to share data with external entities and third parties (EHR integration solution), including insurers and government agencies. 
  • HCM and EHR integration can vastly improve communication and can save time in many ways, from determining patient care to resolving billing disputes or insurance coding errors.

In mental health, the patient's recovery is affected by a variety of factors, such as the severity of their condition, the duration of the illness, and the medications being taken for treatment. However, research has shown that patients’ quality of care is also highly dependent on their relationship with their therapist or clinician. 

In this sense, an HCM system focuses on improving patients’ experiences and outcomes by making sure that employees have all the information they need to do their jobs effectively. The added benefit is a more engaged workforce.

ContinuumCloud Can Help With Streamlining Your Systems

As the health care industry embraces digitalization and becomes more patient-centered, ContinuumCloud is at the forefront of strategic transformation for behavioral health care and human services organizations. We are working on creating an integration between our cloud-based EHR solution and our HCM products to improve efficiencies and create a better experience.

Contact us to get started on your organization’s human capital management system implementation.

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