EHRs must adapt to stringent privacy of behavioral health data

Every electronic health record system offers its own unique advantages and disadvantages, but every version of the software on the market today requires data to be entered into the system by an attendant or physician. This data is then formatted according to the particular brand’s preference, ostensibly to make data sharing more efficient.

However, EHR systems are beginning to encounter information they may not be developed to handle. Behavioral health has always faced challenges in the U.S., but never before has it had to battle inefficient data aggregation systems. According to several experts, behavioral health data is much more stringently protected than other types of patient health information. Instead of adapting to these new demands, many healthcare professionals are simply leaving entry fields blank if the data cannot transfer.

Data uniformity and EHRs
​According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 63.3 million annual vists to physician offices, hospitals and emergency departments result in a mental disorder as the primary diagnosis. The average length of stay for behavioral health patients was 7.2 days, though the U.S. currently houses nearly 996,000 senior citizens with mental disorders, as well.

Because behavioral and mental health conditions are so difficult to predict, prevent and treat, industry observers want to see EHRs flex their analytical muscles with behavioral health data. However, some EHRs cannot even access the information due to added restrictions.

Health Data Management explained that, while all PHI is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, behavioral health data has another layer of security known as 42 CFR Part 2, a section of federal law that limits the disclosure of identifiable information by federally-funded addiction treatment centers. This restriction can even apply to other healthcare entities that inquire about or attempt to disclose the identity of the patient in question.

However, this added security also means that EHRs cannot automatically enter shared behavioral health data as it flows through health information exchanges and other data sharing systems. In fact, when an EHR cannot populate a field with behavioral health data, it will leave the field blank.

Micky Tripathi, chief executive officer of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative, told Health Data Management that behavioral health information is currently subject to data segmentation, a disconnected network space with data that serves no current purpose.

Connecting these isolated stores of behavioral health data with other caches of medical data may help improve EHR functionality, but behavioral health specialists, medical coders and EHR venders all must agree on a standardized set of data and sharing policies. Otherwise, the analytical power of EHRs will be largely forgotten.

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