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How Technology is Changing Behavioral Healthcare

There’s little doubt that health information technology (HIT) — the application of IT advances in the world of healthcare — has saved lives, cut costs and boosted efficiency.

Electronic health records (EHRs) have improved communication between physicians, nurses, hospitals, testing providers and others, ensuring the right health information about a patient can be used by all who need it. Telehealth, which does not require the doctor and the patient to be in the same room, is increasing in popularity. Tablets and smartphones have replaced paper notes and clipboards, putting more information at doctors’ and nurses’ fingertips and helping data entry become consistent and streamlined.

How have these advances played out in the behavioral health field? Read on.

EHR: Behavioral Health Has Some Catching Up to Do

A 2016 study in the American Journal of Managed Care found that while HIT is highly effective for behavioral health, it is not well used. A few years ago, at a roundtable in 2012 held by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, it was discussed that behavioral health providers were slow to adopt health information technologies.

The most important reason for the behavioral health industry to catch up is that by sharing data, they can provide better treatment. When EHRs reflect all the dimensions of a medical record, physicians can see a better picture of the patient’s health issues and coordinate treatments in a holistic way. This can be critical because some non-behavioral issues diseases, such as diabetes, have strong connections to behavioral health.

Telehealth: Providing Counseling Connections Over Long Distances

Telehealth most commonly describes the delivery of healthcare services and education through video communication. It has become commonplace as technology has improved and people have grown much more comfortable with video conferencing through services like FaceTime and Skype.

Telehealth is ideally suited for behavioral health services. Just as in a face-to-face conversation, both the practitioner and patient can see and hear nonverbal cues, such as gestures, posture, facial expressions and tone of voice. While face-to-face (synchronous) communication is the best-known application of telehealth, there are also opportunities for asynchronous record-and-replay service and remote patient monitoring.

The Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, finds the following benefits for telehealth in the behavioral health field:

  • Improved care delivery
  • Expanded staff capacity
  • Enhanced training opportunities
  • High levels of patient acceptance
  • Cost savings

    mHealth: Mobile Access for Patients and Practitioners

    You’ve come to rely on your phone and tablet as easily accessible and comprehensive sources of information. The mHealth initiatives currently underway are helping physicians move to these mobile and wireless technologies, shifting away from printed resource materials and slow communications. Instead of relying on printed resource materials, which can become outdated, physicians can go online to get the latest information about important issues such as drug interactions and dosage information. Because communication is so ubiquitous these days, mHealth can also strengthen the relationship between patients and practitioners — few doctors make house calls, but an increasing number are accepting emails from patients. mHealth is growing in use globally; the World Health Organization says that 83 percent of member states have at least one mHealth initiative.

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