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May 1, 2006
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MHCA and SATVA work together to produce a white paper on successful EHR implementations

Perhaps the greatest challenge to successfully implementing an electronic health record (EHR) is developing a working partnership between the behavioral health software vendor and the treatment provider organization purchasing the software. In 2003 a group of treatment providers from the Mental Health Corporations of America (MHCA) and the Software and Technology Vendors’ Association (SATVA) began working together to identify areas in which both industries could improve EHR selection and implementation, as well as ongoing relations.

In February 2006, the two organizations released a comprehensive document entitled Planning Your EHR System: Guidelines for Executive Management. This document is being featured on many Web sites and at national conferences. This article describes the process by which a working partnership evolved between these two trade associations, which led to the production of this important document.

MHCA and SATVA began discussing relationships and ways to work together for the good of the industry in 2003. At first, SATVA representatives attended several MHCA meetings, where they listened to frankly expressed concerns and complaints regarding software companies, and MHCA representatives attended SATVA meetings to gain insight into vendors’ perspectives on their relationship with treatment provider organizations. Topics ranged from smoke-and-mirror software sales and lack of credibility to incompetent staff and leadership.

Needless to say, the feelings and experiences of the respective memberships were profound and intense. There were months of discussions targeted at allowing providers and vendors to vent and share their frustrations and hardships. When the differences were aired sufficiently and all persons were accustomed to a new form of listening, the consensus was, what can we do to change this?

The first step was for SATVA to demonstrate serious attention and commitment to increasing the credibility of the software industry. We did this by establishing and committing ourselves to a code of practice that we call “Guidelines for Business Practice” now posted on our Web site (www.satva.org). This was an important step that showed both sides how beneficial the relationship between us could be.

A joint task force was created, comprised of three software company CEOs and three behavioral health treatment organization CEOs, with support from Don Hevey, president/CEO of MHCA, and Tom Trabin, executive director of SATVA. The original goals of the task force were:

  1. Conduct a candid dialogue between provider and vendor members.

  2. Assemble a body of experi-ential information on software implementation/use.

  3. Develop “best practice” guidelines to improve the likelihood of successful implementation/use.

  4. Open up better use of technology to support clinical care.

Task force members set certain principles and ground rules for proceeding with our work:

  1. We are in this together—for better or worse.

  2. What's past is past and it's ugly—leave it alone.

  3. No sense thinking or speaking destructively toward ourselves or each other.

  4. Maintain an industry-to-industry perspective—believe it or not, this is really not about us.

As with any group process, the task force took time to come together and understand one another. Our task force members were all executive managers within their organizations, with our time and energy in great demand by the organizations we led. Nevertheless, we maintained our focus with the intent to develop materials that would help the behavioral health field prepare for and meet the challenges of EHRs.

The content of numerous meetings and conference calls was detailed discussions on selection, implementation, and continued beneficial use of EHRs. There were many disagreements and expressions of strong feelings and experiences that required analysis and reevaluation.

The team's first product and collaborative presentation was at the Quarterly MHCA Meeting on August 4, 2004, followed by a panel presentation at the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare Annual Conference on March 15, 2005, entitled, “Two Left Feet: How to Avoid Missteps in Software Selection and Implementation” (see www.satva.org/educational/index.html). These presentations reinforced the group's increasing sense that we had all mutually benefited from our work together and had come to speak with one voice. The task force decided to continue working with one another and to create a white paper targeting CEOs and other executive managers of behavioral health and substance abuse organizations.