Having some role in managing your organization's information technology infrastructure may be just one part of your job, but it's arguably one of the most critical components. And IT decisions are becoming ever more important and complex. This reality was really brought home for me at last month's Institute for Behavioral Health Informatics (IBHI).
Before clinicians can use software to improve care delivery, executives need to make critical software selection decisions—hardly made any easier with national standards for electronic health records still in development and, as such, certainly weighing on decision makers' minds. IBHI presenters outlined an evolving list of commissions, certifying bodies, and government agencies sorting out how the Nationwide Health Information Network will emerge, and I suspect some organizational leaders in the behavioral healthcare field would like to see how it plays out before committing scarce financial resources to a large IT investment (or reinvestment).
Yet IBHI presenters stressed that behavioral healthcare organizations shouldn't wait for the national standards discussions to wrap up before adopting EHRs. The benefits of today's IT solutions (well-articulated by William R. Connors, MSW, in the September issue) are too important to delay EHR implementation, and the bureaucracy involved in the standard-setting process likely means that new standards will be introduced slowly. So if you are using paper records, the time to upgrade was yesterday. And if you are using EHRs, don't assume you have "done your part." Technology doesn't stand still, and your next system upgrade is probably just around the corner (See the article by Katherine E. Peres, PhD, for more on this).
If managing your organization's IT infrastructure wasn't enough, there's more you can do to make sure IT improves care for all behavioral healthcare consumers—become involved in the EHR standard-setting process. Field leaders at IBHI pointed out that the groups making decisions affecting national healthcare IT policy and standards know little—if anything—about behavioral healthcare and its unique technologic needs. Most involved in the discussions are from the physical healthcare world and don't understand the complexities of mental healthcare (it's more than psychiatry after all) and, even less so, substance abuse treatment. Some pioneers are keeping your interests alive in national discussions, but the field definitely needs more advocates like them. If you are interested in finding out how you can help the cause, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll put you in touch with some of the experts I communicate with regularly.