Wednesday, February 01 | EHR Solutions and Operations

How an EMR for Mental Health Helps You Meet Challenges

By Netsmart

Mental health professionals face a wide variety of challenges into today’s ever-changing healthcare environment. Beyond the federal mandates affecting EMR for mental health providers, clinicians face clients with difficult diagnoses seeking treatment in a society that is slow to embrace mental health issues.

An EMR for mental health might not seem like the answer to these challenges, but there is the potential for return on investment that makes fiscal sense as well as improving client care.

Meeting Business & Client Needs

The right EMR for mental health benefits both the front and the back office. This can help reduce staffing requirements and help you focus instead on client care. With more efficient processes supported by the EMR system, staff will be more productive, which saves time and money.

It can also ensure reimbursements arrive in a timely manner, which is a big concern for most mental health organizations.

Ensuring EMR for Mental Health Practitioners is Successful

Implementation, in most instances, can be seamless, but there will always be bumps along the way until your staff is fully comfortable with the new EMR.

Your vendor should work with you to ensure that the mental health EMR you choose is configured to your requirements and that adequate training and support is provided. A fully integrated EMR platform provides a robust set of templates and forms designed to streamline your business operations and scale up as your organization grows.

Biggest Benefit is Electronic Billing

A fully integrated EMR for mental health practices provides billings with shorter turnaround time than other methods. Look for an EMR that scrubs your billings for coding errors before submission. This will save time and money, and ensure you get paid faster.

One of the biggest benefits of an EMR platform is the reductions in claim denials. This can make a significant impact on your efficiency and bottom line. One study reports that EMR for mental health systems can reduce rejected claims by 98%.

Streamline Scheduling

Another big benefit is the automated scheduling feature that notifies you when a client is scheduled, sends out automatic reminders to clients to reduce no-shows, and makes it easy for front office staff to manage all scheduling functions from a single dashboard.

When clients receive routine messages from your practice, they’re more likely to keep appointments and stick to a scheduling plan.

Spend Less Time on Reporting

If your staff spends hours each week on reporting for federal and state regulations, an EMR for mental health helps you track outcomes and run reports on any parameters for regulatory purposes.

In fact, it’s not inconceivable that after implementing a good EMR for mental health, practices have been able to reduce staff time spent on regulatory compliance reporting from hours down to minutes.

Hard Numbers on Actual Benefits

EMR for mental health practitioners benefits both clients and the practice by allowing clinicians to provide better, more timely care and to increase the number of clients they can see each day. This will help your practice grow and serve more clients in the future.

One Major Advantage of Implementing a Behavioral Health EMR System

Behavioral health, as a specialty, hasn’t historically adopted EHR systems because most are nonprofit with limited funding. In addition, sole practitioners didn’t need something that robust in an EHR system.

However, with the advent of meaningful use mandates and the customization of EMR systems for behavioral health practices, the move to the right EMR software solution and a carefully planned implementation strategy can provide many extremely beneficial advantages to a behavioral health organization.

Following is one advantage that makes sense to all involved, from behavioral health clinicians to clients and other healthcare specialists.

Breaking down Silos

Some, but not all, EMR systems allow all healthcare practitioners who care for clients as a whole to share notes so that the entire course of treatment is holistic. The primary care physician, health specialists, and behavioral health providers all work together on a holistic plan.

Inside a behavioral health organization, though, better decisions are made by sharing information to limit the possibly of a dangerous situation where a clinician is completely dependent on the information from the client and/or family members. Without an EMR solution, silos of information exist that prevent clinicians, billing staff, and scheduling from sharing details necessary to perform their functions.

With an EMR system, clinicians, staff, and executives can share appropriate information and insight that affects the client’s care and the administrative handling of the case and reporting initiatives.

What to Consider When Thinking About Investing in a New Behavioral Health EHR System

You may be tempted to focus solely on the expense of investing in a new behavioral health EHR system, but that would cover only half of the equation—you need to consider the potential ROI that a fully integrated EHR platform can provide.

Preparing a budget is only one step in planning for the switch to a new EHR system. While there are a few things to take into consideration for budgeting appropriately, you should also estimate your potential ROI as part of the financial analysis.

Specifically, look at efficiencies gained in the following areas:

Clinician caseload management.

Automating some of the notation work necessary to complete a case file allows clinicians more time to take on new clients.

Operational efficiencies.

Automating administrative processes through effective technology allows your staff to focus on strategic initiatives rather than menial tasks.

Billing reimbursements.

Automatically generating bills submitted to payers decreases the likelihood of clerical error and results in quicker payment.

Results of Implementing EHR Software for Behavioral Health Organizations

An increasing number of behavioral health organizations are making advances by implementing EHR software solutions, and they’re sharing their success stories with others on how working with an EHR has proved beneficial to client care.

In an interesting study, Behavioral Healthcare Executive surveyed their readers who use EHR software, who reported the following advantages:

23.6% said it improves client care
18.1% said it helps get rid of paper storage
16.3% said it helps staff be more efficient
14.2% said it helps ensure reimbursement
11.1% said it helps track outcomes
9% said it saves time
Only 5.6% reported they saw no advantages.

When Qualitative Improvements Become Quantitative

One caveat to consider is that qualitative improvements provide numerous benefits over time, which can save money. For instance, implementing EHR software can reduce errors, save time, and help prevent dangerous contraindications between medications.

With the shifting federal government focus on a reimbursement model based on quality, these qualitative improvements make for better quality client care and happier clients, which helps organizations meet quality of care mandates.

What You Should Consider Before Implementation

Still, some behavioral health clinicians and staff remain skeptical about the value of implementing an EHR solution. As more and more invest in EHR systems, though, they’re sharing that it seems to be money well spent.

The key to a successful EHR software implementation that generates an ROI depends on the behavioral health facility. If you get organizational buy-in, especially from clinicians, and evaluate your workflows and how they’re going to change to adapt to the EHR system, you’ll be in a better position to choose a solution with the functionality you need.

Selecting an EHR System for Mental Health Providers

When considering an EHR system in the not so distant past, mental health providers found the field for behavioral health was limited to physical medical conditions. Further, they were unwilling or unable to finance the implementation of an EHR system.

Today, however, behavioral health information is becoming a critical piece of a client’s holistic patient record, and behavioral health providers have options to adopt an EHR system developed specifically for the needs of the behavioral healthcare population.

While the selection and implementation of an EHR system that will meet the diverse needs of behavioral health clinicians, administrative and billing staff, and leadership can be complicated, the reality is that behavioral health EHR solutions are now available, affordable, and meet a wide array of care coordination needs.

Selecting an EHR System

Careful consideration and selection of the right EHR system, coupled with an extensive implementation strategy, can help behavioral health organizations achieve the many benefits and advantages, including a ROI that makes business sense.

There are existing behavioral health EHR systems available that are well-designed to support the life cycle of client care from intake and scheduling to assessments and treatment planning, all the way through to billing. Plus, robust reporting and analytics for tools contribute to better overall business decision making.

Features to Consider

Not all EHRs can function well for behavioral health organizations. Here are a few system features you want to ensure your new EHR system has:

  • The content must be targeted towards behavioral health treatments, such as protocols for psychological disorders and prescription-based treatment. This includes different types of care such as outpatient, inpatient/residential, and offsite visits.
  • A mental health EHR system should capture free text. Clinicians often record individual information about the client in free text, writing down what they observe and what family members tell them. This allows clinicians to manipulate and examine information to make better treatment plans and achieve better outcomes.
  • A behavioral health EHR software solution should be developed with mental health regulatory and payor requirements in mind. This is one of the main reasons why organization need a solution specific for behavioral health.

Creating a Plan

To ensure you select the best EHR system, mental health providers should create a strategic plan for EHR implementation. Clinicians and staff should be directly involved, and their suggestions should form the basis for selecting and configuring the EHR system.

An overarching strategy that identifies the features and benefits you expect to receive is invaluable in helping you evaluate EHR system vendors. Decide on everything you need the system to do, like improve treatment planning, communication, better reporting, and supporting holistic care. Then use that list to choose the best EHR system that meets or exceeds those requirements.

Finally, your workflows might need to evolve and adapt to fit the new EHR system. A system will not fix bad workflows, so if something in your processes creates problems or bottlenecks, the EHR system will only amplify it. This is why you should put all care coordination staff together on a team to map your processes first and work with a knowledgeable behavioral health EHR vendor to help you align processes and the EHR system into a complete platform solution.


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