Using Health Information Technology to Empower Patients and Providers

Employees talking to each other

There’s no doubt that digital transformation has impacted virtually every industry on the planet — and the field of behavioral health and human services is no exception. There are numerous health information technology (HIT) tools now available that help make the exchange of medical records more efficient in today's healthcare industry. Among the most important tools are electronic health records (EHRs), which make it easier for healthcare professionals to access and share information. 

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of choosing an EHR over a manual process, provide an overview of health information technology, explain the role of EHRs in the field, and examine the importance of privacy and security. Our discussion will also cover the desirable characteristics of an EHR system and when it’s appropriate to hire an in-house team rather than relying on a vendor.

Why Is Health Information Technology Crucial?

Relying on paper records had long been the standard in health care despite its disadvantages — time consuming, prone to errors, unable to scale, and no backup forms, to name just a few. But as new technology developed and the transition to electronic health records accelerated, the use of digital tools and systems to manage and exchange health information became more prevalent. 

HIT encompasses applications such as electronic health records, health information management, telehealth, patient portals, and mobile health to provide a more streamlined method for exchanging critical information and treating patients for better outcomes. 

What Are the Advantages of Electronic Health Records Over Manual Processes?

Electronic health records (EHRs) are digital versions of patient medical records containing all relevant health information, including medical history, medications, allergies, and test results. Unlike electronic medical records (EMRs), which are local, EHRs can be accessed by authorized practitioners, insurance companies, medical coders, and connected healthcare systems, resulting in better patient care. EHRs offer several advantages over paper-based medical records, such as easier management, fewer errors, and simplified sharing.

EHRs provide many benefits compared to manual processes, including increased efficiency and productivity. By allowing easy access to patient records, like medical histories and test results, EHRs save time for healthcare teams. Moreover, EHRs automate administrative tasks, freeing staff to focus on patient care by streamlining billing and scheduling appointments.

EHRs also enhance patient safety by reducing errors caused by illegible handwriting or incomplete records. They automatically alert medical providers of potentially harmful drug interactions or allergies. With EHRs, authorized healthcare providers can effortlessly access patient information and facilitate coordinated care. They can also integrate with other health information systems, enabling clinicians to share information digitally across various healthcare organizations.

When investing in an EHR solution, it’s imperative that it facilitates the management of patient records, diagnosis tracking, treatment plans, and medication lists. You also want to opt for a system that streamlines medical coding and administrative workflows to boost productivity, decrease medical errors, and expedite reimbursements. Moreover, patients must trust that their health information is secure, so your EHR must follow strict regulations to protect sensitive patient data.

8 Must-Have Functions and Components of EHR Technology

Health information technology: doctor using a laptop

When choosing health information technology solutions for your behavioral and mental health practice, there are many features to consider. From EHRs to telehealth and messaging platforms, the most robust HIT solution can streamline workflows, improve patient outcomes, and increase revenue. 

A comprehensive EHR system should offer key features and functions, including clinical care management tools, billing and revenue cycle management systems, mHealth, telehealth, and messaging platforms. These options can help behavioral health providers deliver high-quality care, improve patient satisfaction, and stay competitive in a rapidly evolving landscape. Let’s take a closer look at the specific components of a high-quality HIT system.

1. Clinical Care Management

Software that includes clinical care management lets practitioners manage patient care plans, track health indicators, and communicate with patients promptly. This system enables providers to make clinical decisions supported by the latest data while engaging patients in their own care. It also promotes multi-disciplinary care, allowing providers to collaborate with colleagues to deliver coordinated care to their patients.

2. Billing and RCM

An integrated billing and revenue cycle management (RCM) software sets your organization up for success by automating billing and revenue management processes. As such, you can streamline the claims process and ensure that providers receive on-time payments for services rendered. 

3. Mobile EHRs

A mobile EHR platform gives healthcare providers access to patient records and lets them manage clinical workflows on the go. This system enables teams to manage their schedules and communicate with patients from anywhere. Your mobile design should fully synchronize with your desktop EHR platform. As a result of cross-functionality, providers can seamlessly transition between platforms and access the same information regardless of the device or healthcare setting.

4. Telehealth and Messaging

These features allow clinicians to communicate with patients remotely using video conferencing and digital communication tools. Look for a system designed to improve access to care, especially for patients who cannot visit your clinic in person. Ensure the telehealth and messaging features you choose fully integrate with your clinical data management software so your team has access to clinical data during telehealth consultations.

5. Patient Portal

A patient portal is a secure web-based platform that gives patients access to their medical records and lets them schedule appointments and communicate with their health team. A portal provides patients with a comprehensive medical history, including diagnoses, medications, allergies, and lab results. Patients can also securely message clinicians and request prescription refills through the portal. Be sure that your patient portal is thoughtfully designed for behavioral health patients, as new research suggests some patient portals are ineffective.

6. Internal Chat

Internal chat functionality enables teams to communicate with each other over secure HIPAA-compliant channels. This feature improves care coordination and ensures that data is shared securely. Internal chat should fully integrate with your EHR software to give providers access to view and share data such as demographic and clinical information during conversations. This feature should also support group chats to further enable real-time collaboration.

7. Surveys and Engagement

Engagement features enable providers to optimize outcomes by gathering feedback and engaging patients in their care. Teams can create customized surveys to discover what patients like and dislike about their care experiences while also providing educational resources and personalized care plans. The system should support automated appointment reminders and other patient engagement tools in order to improve patient satisfaction and outcomes.

8. Reporting and Outcomes

A reporting and outcomes feature provides real-time analytics and reporting, which enables providers to track clinical outcomes and optimize their operations. A quality software solution should provide access to detailed reports on billing and revenue cycle management to help administrators make informed decisions based on timely information.

Should You Hire a Health Information Technician or a Health IT Vendor?

Health information technology: employees looking at a desktop computer

Deciding whether to contract with a technology partner versus using health IT professionals in-house is a major concern when it comes to implementing a HIT solution. There are several crucial factors to consider.

First, it’s important to realize that not all degree programs provide the same level of training for HIT professionals. Some health IT professionals may only have associate degrees in health sciences or applied science with minor coursework in health informatics. If you choose to go this route, make sure you hire a Registered Health Information Technician (RHIT) who must graduate from a CAHIIM-accredited HIM academic program to receive their credentials.

Healthcare IT providers often provide better services than IT professionals in managing software like electronic health records, patient portals, telehealth, and revenue cycle management. A key advantage of partnering with a health IT provider is that they have the certification and training necessary to provide more comprehensive HIT services. 

Because HIT vendors must undergo rigorous training and accreditation processes, you can feel comfortable knowing they can deliver reliable services that meet industry standards. For example, HIT vendors like ContinuumCloud are certified by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Program (ONC), which sets the standards for HIT certification. These certifications ensure the company knows the latest HIT standards and regulations and provides secure and compliant services. There are other factors to consider as well.

Growth and Scalability

Choosing a cloud-based electronic health record vendor over an in-house team may help you grow and scale your HIT services quickly and securely. Look for HIT vendors with the expertise and resources to manage the complex infrastructure required to support a growing behavioral health practice. They should be able to provide the necessary hardware and software, security protocols, and ongoing support to ensure your technology services are secure and reliable as you grow and add new healthcare services.

Cost-Effective Solutions

Partnering with a HIT vendor is also more cost-effective for behavioral healthcare facilities. Building an in-house HIT program requires significant investment in hardware, software, training, and personnel. By partnering with a cloud-based EHR provider, you benefit from the vendor's existing infrastructure and expertise without investing in an entire HIT program. A savvy decision here may result in substantial cost savings and allow clinicians to focus on caring for their patients.

Ongoing Support

Lastly, working with a HIT vendor may benefit you by providing the ongoing training and 24/7 support you need to resolve any issues or problems quickly. Many vendors offer regular updates and maintenance to ensure your technology is up-to-date and your patient's protected health data stays secure. This ongoing support gives your team time to focus on their jobs rather than managing HIT infrastructure.

Partner With a Leader in HIT for Behavioral Health and Human Services

Health information technology: employees having a discussion

The use of health information technology has become a critical component of the healthcare industry for its ability to boost efficiency and reduce costs. Electronic health records are a key part of HIT as they provide fast and secure access to patient data. 

When choosing HIT solutions, it's essential to consider the importance of privacy and security, the benefits an EHR system has over manual processes, and the advantages you receive from partnering with a HIT vendor over hiring a HIT professional.

ContinuumCloud is a leading provider of comprehensive health information technology solutions, offering EHRs, clinical care management tools, billing and revenue cycle management systems, mobile EHRs, telehealth messaging platforms, and patient portals.

By partnering with ContinuumCloud, behavioral health teams will be able to take advantage of our expertise and resources to manage complex HIT infrastructure and benefit from ongoing support and training, saving time and resources while improving patient care. Connect with us today to learn how to expand your health information technology program.

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