Electronic Health Records In Mental Health Practice: The New Frontier

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Electronic Health Records

The march towards the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) in American health care continues forward, largely fueled by incentives for use and potential penalties for lack of use by medical practitioners. These incentives and penalties come through a federal program called Meaningful Use. Except for psychiatrists, mental health clinicians are currently not included in this program and thus can neither benefit from the incentives nor be affected by the penalties.

Despite this fact, the need to understand and, for some of us, adopt EHR in our practices is growing. Private practitioners may not be required to adopt an EHR system in the near future, but the idea of EHR is now entering the radar of mental and behavioral health care professionals throughout the United States.

Here are some things to know about EHR and mental health practice:
  • Electronic health records are different from electronic medical records or other electronic record keeping. An EHR allows clinicians to access and add to the collective health records for a given person, and connects all (or at least most of) the clinicians involved in that person’s care.
  • There is an effort in Congress to add psychologists and social workers to the Meaningful Use program, which would allow those professionals to access the monetary incentives for adopting EHR, and also be subject to the future Medicare/Medicaid reimbursement penalties for lack of meaningful adoption of EHR.
  • EHR can potentially benefit mental health clinicians by giving us quick access to each client’s medical record. It can also facilitate integration of care with other clinicians.
  • While many EHR systems were originally developed with physicians and hospitals in mind, more and more they are adapting to the needs of mental health professionals.
  • EHRs may exist as part of a broad practice management system that addresses other facets of the business like scheduling and billing.
  • The implementation and use of an EHR creates ethical, privacy, and security concerns that can be addressed through education, due diligence, and documentation.


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