Where Behavioral Health Organizations Stand with Technology

This month ContinuumCloud released its 2022 Tech Experiences & Impact Report. The survey reflects the views, concerns, and priorities of behavioral health and human services providers, largely based on responses from C-Suite and management staff (only 9% of direct staff reported their views). Not surprisingly, staff recruitment and retention are top of the list closely followed by revenue cycle. Moving past the “great resignation”, employers in all industries are focused on recruiting and retaining talent. And, with high vacancy rates come concerns about revenue and the need to make sure the revenue cycle is as well managed as possible. So, how does technology fit in?

Tech Usage Stats from the Report

The survey respondents indicate fairly high utilization of technology, particularly EHR (82%) for documentation, but only 53% are using technology-driven revenue cycle management tools. While the vast majority rely on tech solutions for payroll (95%) and most use tech for benefits (67%), there has only been limited adoption for other HR functions such as recruiting, onboarding, or budgeting.  Concerns about upfront cost measured against ROI appear to be a significant driver of further investment.

Organizations have a hard time tracing the connection between these apps and improvements in patient outcomes and engagement or employee engagement and retention. Their major impact seems to lie in the area of improved efficiency within a singular process – e.g., EHRs make documentation of services more efficient, but the connection to patient care is not evident. And even within this area “ease of use” continues to be a major concern (50%). Additionally, these organizations acknowledge that they are not using all the features included in their tech products (40% say they do not use all the features). And most indicate relying on multiple platforms and products to gain a real sense of how their organization is performing (52%).

Tech for Individual Processes vs. Organizational Performance

The picture that emerges is that the tech available is process focused and does make single processes more efficient but has not yet created visible ROI in terms of overall performance of the organization: client outcome and finance. The products are disjointed and do not integrate information, so that organizations have to use multiple platforms to understand their performance. As tech platforms evolve, ease of use and a broader understanding of not just workflows but how processes are interconnected will be essential.

Staff engagement leads to better client outcomes – staff that see their work as meaningful and well supported stay with the organization and do better work. Client engagement improves outcomes by reducing attrition and increasing adherence to service plans. Both can be facilitated by technology that facilitates client entry into services and supports the work being done by the therapist, case manager, case worker, etc. Generating information about retention in treatment, adherence and outcomes can help organizations establish the ROI for their organization and if it comes from a single technology source, that will establish the value of that tech investment.

Revenue cycle management (RCM) requires not just data that reflects aging of existing charges and tracking payments or denials. True RCM ROI comes from information that traces “charges” all the way from their potential (a scheduled appointment) all the way through to payment or write-off. A great deal of revenue is “lost” because it is unseen – was every service documented? Timely? If payment is denied, is the reason easy to track? RCM depends on knowing and being able to track processes that are complex on a unified dashboard. And the data needs to be available in a coherent form, that is that each piece presented (e.g., no-shows, documentation compliance, charges, payments, write-offs, etc.) represents exactly the same client group, date span, payer, etc. And, it has to contain relevant filters and drill downs. Most organizations rely on external platforms to do this integration.

Driving More Strategic Tech Initiatives

Bringing HRIS and EHR and RCM data together can generate the information to establish the organizations strengths and weakness, help to redesign processes and connect them in more efficient ways. Integration will be the key to making technology more valuable. And, if adoption is to improve, then ease of use (fewer clicks, please!) and easy transitions between segments of the tech product are likely to drive fuller use of all the products features and also enhance the data that can be extracted. With tech it’s about understanding the complexity and interdependence of processes and decreasing the workload for its human users.

About the Author

Maggie Labarta

Maggie Labarta is Founder and Consultant at Impact Non-profit Consulting, having previously retired as CEO of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. Labarta holds a Ph.D. in Clinical and Community Psychology and has extensive experience in both administration and clinical practice. She also has particular expertise in strategic planning, data and analytics as management tools, and organizational development. She provides consultative services for numerous community organizations.

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