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Policymaking, Regulation, & Strategy

Behavioral Health

Why Focus Health IT on Behavioral Health?

Integration of care enabled by health IT has great potential to improve health outcomes for individuals with behavioral health problems. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) convened behavioral health stakeholders for a roundtable focused on using health IT to integrate behavioral health and primary care. The Behavioral Health Roundtable Report [PDF - 397 KB] highlights the discussion of essential elements of care integration between behavioral health and primary care settings.

Behavioral health problems include substance abuse or misuse, alcohol and drug addiction, serious psychological distress, suicide, and mental and substance use disorders. An estimated 26 percent of Americans age 18 and older are living with a mental health disorder in any given year, and 46 percent will have a mental health disorder over the course of their lifetime. In addition, an estimated 8 percent of Americans are in need of drug or alcohol abuse treatment. Patients suffering from serious mental illness have increased rates of co-occurring conditions , which results in a reduced life expectancy of 8-17 years.

To find more information about ONC initiatives that support behavioral health, please refer to the Behavioral Health & Health IT Issue Brief [PDF - 302 KB]

How are Behavioral Health Providers Using Health IT?

The rate of health IT adoption among behavioral health care providers is minimal.  The HIT Adoption and Readiness for Meaningful Use in Community Behavioral Health [PDF - 387 KB]  report discussed barriers to adoption of health IT - noting upfront cost, consent, and sustainability as primary deterrents. Although all providers are not eligible to receive incentive payments under the Health Information Technology for Economic Clinical Health (HITECH) Act, the benefits of adoption, exchange and integration of electronic health records (EHR) are not limited to a particular group or market. For instance, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners may be eligible for the meaningful use, however, other behavioral health providers including psychologist, clinical social workers, community mental health centers, psychiatric hospitals, residential treatment centers, substance abuse treatment programs, opioid treatment programs, licensed therapists, etc. are not eligible. ONC recognizes the importance of integrating health IT into behavioral health settings and supports the following initiatives to provide resources to the behavioral health community: