Sep 30, 2011 (09:09 AM EDT)
HHS Offers $13.2 Million For Behavioral Health IT

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Health IT Boosts Patient Care, Safety
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The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has announced that it will provide up to $13.2 million in new grants to support the adoption of health IT in organizations serving people with mental and substance use disorders, with the goal of improving the quality of care.

SAMHSA, a public health agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, said it will distribute one-year grants of approximately $200,000 each to 47 community health centers working to integrate primary care and behavioral health services.

One of the recipients of a $200,000 grant is Bridges, A Community Support System, based in Milford, Conn. Bridges is part of CommuniCare, a regional behavioral healthcare partnership that serves more than 12,000 mentally challenged and substance abuse patients. CommuniCare also includes the Birmingham Group Health Services and Harbor Health Services.

According to Barbara DiMauro, chief of services at Bridges, the funds will help support an IT infrastructure that can serve CommuniCare's Health Management Strategies for Recovery (HMSR) program, which includes primary care services and nurse care management. To date, more than 500 individuals have received services through HMSR, about 300 of which have received primary care.

DiMauro said the funds will go toward expanding the use of its Clinician's Desktop an electronic health record tool developed by the Echo Group for behavioral health agencies. The award will also help build a database to generate business intelligence around its patient data and enhance its electronic data exchange capabilities.

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"We will enhance the existing HMSR program so that we have the ability to collect additional data on all consumers in our system. This will also directly support our goal of meeting Meaningful Use Stage 1 criteria. Additionally, client-level information from other healthcare providers will be shared with us electronically," DiMauro told InformationWeek Healthcare.

She also said staff assigned to the health IT project will coordinate the development of a database for the collection of information from external primary care providers, which will position the CommuniCare sites to collaborate with a broader network of providers and obtain data relevant to patient's health status. The database is expected to be fully developed by the end of the year, and a portion of the funding will go toward hiring consultants who will guide CommuniCare through its participation in a regional health information exchange.

"Electronic health records improve quality, accountability, and cost effectiveness of healthcare services," SAMHSA administrator, Pamela Hyde, said in a statement. "Persons with behavioral health problems often have significant physical health issues as well. These grants are a critical downpayment on the health information technology investment needed to ensure behavioral health service providers are fully interoperable with the general health system."

Dr. Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health IT noted that "EHRs offer providers the tools necessary to give patients, including those with mental health and substance use problems, the right care at the right time while protecting patient privacy and security."

SAMHSA efforts to integrate primary and behavioral healthcare in community-based settings received a further boost with the announcement of an additional $3.8 million grant made to the National Council on Community Behavioral Health Care. The award will assist community health centers and state designated agencies with their efforts to implement electronic health records.