Mental health EHRs and meaningful use initiatives can provide incentives for mental health services

Meaningful Use Incentives

Many doctors and care providers in mental health fields know about EHR incentives and the potential benefits to patients, but the assumption is sometimes that these systems benefit primary care doctors or physician specialists. Some may not even know that mental health solutions can be certified for meaningful use and earn practitioners incentives.

What is meaningful use and how can mental health professionals seek incentives through the CMS program?

Understanding meaningful use

Meaningful use is an initiative launched by CMS in which health care providers prove that they aren’t only adopting EHR software but using it in meaningful ways that meet specific criteria. In exchange for proving their meaningful use, these providers receive federal incentive payments.

The goal of the program, likewise, is not only to expand the use of EHR software in the U.S., but to ensure that it’s being used according to best practices. Meaningful use of EHR offers doctors and patients a number of benefits:

• Patient information is kept in a secure database where it can be accessed by pertinent providers, eliminating the need for paper documentation, which can be lost or misplaced. Increasingly, EHR software allows doctors to access patient records on a whim, remotely.

• That information is more complete and accurate, allowing for improved diagnosis and decision making on primary care doctor’s and specialists parts. For example, doctors have an immediate and up-to-date access to medication lists.

• Patients may have access to that information, which encourages their engagement in their own health care, thus improving prevention rates for disease and medical conditions and promoting better national health.

• EHRs facilitate e-prescribing and other practices.

• Software can be equipped with alerts, pop-ups and apps that can improve care, help with decision making and offer doctors reminders.

• EHRs promote the secure sharing of information via the Internet between doctors’ offices, hospitals and health systems. This creates a platform of coordinated care that in turn leads to greater accountability and improved patient outcomes. Health information exchange is still developing, but CMS and other government agencies aim to have a nationwide exchange in place one day.

Meaningful use is split into three stages currently. Stage one ends in 2013, but stage two begins its reporting period of eligible medical professionals in 2014. Its criteria for earning incentives are more stringent than stage one’s, but that shouldn’t dissuade mental health professionals from attesting.

What does it all mean for mental health?

Lori Simon, M.D., offered her take on a very pertinent meaningful use question in Psychiatric News, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association: “Is meaningful use for me?”

As Simon outlined it, if a mental health provider is eligible and is already using a certified EHR, he or she needs to report on meaningful use criteria: Maintaining active medication lists, including allergies to medications; implementing checks on drug-to-drug interactions; maintaining a list of active diagnoses; e-prescribing medication; implementing drug formulary checks; recording medication orders; performing medication reconciliation in the even of a new patient; recording lab results; providing clinical summaries to other providers for patients leaving the practice; creating lists for patients with specific diagnoses; recording basic demographic information; and recording smoking status.

From that point, it’s just a matter of applying for incentive payments by registering with CMS.

Why use mental health EHRs at all?

For some mental health providers, it may not seem like the extra cash from incentive payments is worth the hassle of adopting an EHR.

But it’s important to recognize that EHR adoption isn’t about the payments: It’s about the patients. EHRs facilitate coordinated care, which is essential to better health outcomes. Primary care doctors, therapists, family members, caregivers, social workers, pharmacists and others join a circle of care that enables mental health patients seek help, rejoin the community and find the resources they need.


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