When HIPAA’s privacy law went into effect, it changed a great deal about how we deal with healthcare. Records in the mental health sector needed to be moved online, which required special classifications. With behavioral health EMRs, there are essentially two ways to classify patient data. The first are the records themselves, which track how the patient has progressed, as well as symptoms and prescriptions along the path toward recovery. The second is the therapist’s notes, which can be subject to state laws superseding any federal ones.
This sensitive data and the implementation of electronic medical records (EMRs) in general have revealed some pros and cons in mental health.
EMRs changed how healthcare professionals interacted with technology and presented a few headaches around offices nationwide. Systems have been deployed for several years now, and staff training has had time to catch up to the new systems. The government’s own data puts adoption rates near 96%, with higher satisfaction in EHR systems overall.
It’s clear that EMRs have room to evolve, but the fundamentals are in place, and the system has generally improved access to health records. That exchange of data is the best possible outcome for patients, who can count on better care with their own health profile in mind.
Physicians have better control over lab results, prescriptions and more. Physicians can directly place these orders, often standing right next to the patient, and review detailed results in easy-to-understand formats.
EMRs also simplify data entry, allowing for multiple ways to input patient information. Codes and text boxes that include easy search capabilities help billers and staff members quickly enter patient data. There are also safeguards in place to make sure that patient data is accurate. In some cases, voice dictation can be utilized as well. This is particularly helpful for psychologists, who may dictate an extensive patient profile as a method of note-taking.
Mental health professionals also benefit from easier ways to bill insurance for common charges, such as equipment utilized during the course of treatment. Often, mental health patients require specialized equipment that travels home with them. EMRs provide better tracking and support for these items.
In addition, wearables are providing ample data about patients that EMRs easily collect and store. Many doctors will use wearable data to provide some clues that tell them how active a patient is, or allow insights into heart rate or brain function.
The biggest downside right now has to do with securing personal information. Companies that provide EMR technology have a great deal of pressure to avoid breaches, detect them as they happen and work on providing better security.
The other major disadvantage is when hospitals or doctor’s offices trying to implement a system with poor support. Often, these professionals will choose a system based on cost or a particular feature. But if the application isn’t well supported, patients are the ones that suffer.
Mental health requires careful attention to detail, and previously it was very difficult to switch providers. Some patients and caretakers could easily feel like it’s just too difficult re-hashing treatment to every professional. EMRs take some of that fatigue from patient care and offer better patient access to data.
Often, having access to medical records can be important for legal or other reasons. Rushing adoption is what tends to cause the most drama, so hospitals and doctors should take the time to evaluate good software.