HIMSS14 Highlights Work Ahead for Behavioral Health Field

Last month, I had one of the most interesting experiences in my 32 year career in the behavioral health field. I attended HIMSS14, a conference put on by a nonprofit organization made up of 52,000 individuals, the majority of whom work in some facet of the Health Information Technology field or depend on it. The HIMSS motto is “better health through information technology,” and if this gathering of 32,000 individuals and 2 miles of exhibitors is any indication, many agree. Once I was able to get past the awe one feels the first time they see a conference of this scale, I realized this was the place to learn what is happening today and tomorrow. As a state administrator and proponent of recovery in the behavioral health field for many years, I was struck by the lack of understanding and focus the world of Healthcare IT has for the nuances and needs of the behavioral health field, bringing up some major concerns in my mind.

I worry about the global perception that the behavioral health sector is without the means or structure to implement a truly integrated Electronic Information system. These limiting beliefs can be discouraging, to say the least, but in reality are completely false – not only is this feasible, it is cost effective! Due to the size and nature of primary healthcare, most of the focus, up until this point, has been on creating systems and tools that meet the episodic nature of traditional healthcare, leaving out any attempts to create similar tools for behavioral health. The research and development efforts on display at HIMSS were tools and systems that can do everything from bedside and exam room documentation and billing to real time ICU monitoring and decision-making from doctors anywhere in the world; however, resources have not yet been devoted to creating similar opportunities for the behavioral health field.

In a similar light, I also walked away with the realization that, although Meaningful Use creates the culture for improving the nation’s health through IT efforts, it has (primarily because the Hospital and Physician lobbies are so strong in Washington) not created the same impact in behavioral health where much of the care is given by highly skilled individuals with lived experience who do not generate the federal IT enhancement funding the government has made available to the Physician and nursing driven systems of primary healthcare. I could easily go on about how, of the hundreds of sessions presented on health care topics, only a handful touched on behavioral health, but I won’t because the ideas and opportunities I walked away with far exceeded the obvious and not so obvious barriers the behavioral health world has to overcome to truly improve outcomes for those they serve.