Promoting health IT means better behavioral healthcare

Health IT encompasses electronic health records (EHR), electronic health tools, mobile applications and many more innovative technologies that help push healthcare forward. With the number of useful health IT devices growing, health plans should encourage the use of these technologies to improve behavioral healthcare.

“In this analysis, we explored how commercial health plans encourage health IT as a way to support providers, facilitate access to behavioral health care, and increase opportunities for behavioral health assessment and treatment,” wrote Amity E. Quinn, PhD. “We examined how these strategies vary by how behavioral health care is managed, as having multiple organizations involved may create complexities in implementing health IT approaches.”

Using data from a nationally representative survey of health plans in 2010, researchers measured the differences in the domains of provider support, access to care, assessment and treatment. These domains were used as examples on how health plans can encourage health IT use to improve behavioral healthcare delivery.

Results showed that health plans used health IT across all domains. While a quarter of the products offered financial support for EHR, technical assistance was hard to come by. Primary care providers were able to bill for email contact with patients for a quarter of products for behavioral health. A few products offered member-provided email, and none offered online scheduling for appointments. Additionally, most offered online consoling, personalized responses to questions, referral systems and directories.

“To encourage providers to join and remain in their networks, about a quarter of products offered financial support for EHRs, but only 4.5 percent of products offered technical assistance for health IT needs,” concluded Quinn. “These strategies were not specific to behavioral health providers, and may have applied to all providers in the network. Internal and hybrid-internal products were more likely than specialty external to provide financial support for EHR, while internal and specialty external products were more likely than hybrid-internal products to provide technical assistance for health IT needs.”