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January 1, 2006
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Three recent conferences on behavioral health IT highlight the technologic challenges ahead for the field

Here's a short quiz for the New Year. Compare the following terms: vaporware, word processors, DOS, GIGO, Internet, Fortran, Centromine with paradigm shifts, RHIOs (regional health information organizations), technology-driven transformation, resistance to change, outcomes, recent initiatives, incentivize, neurotechnology, and interoperability. If you guessed “old terms and new terms you hear at IT conferences,” you are correct. These concepts and more were bandied about at two IT conferences in Pittsburgh this past November: the Institute for Behavioral Health Informatics (IBHI) and the 2005 OPEN MINDS Information Technology Institute.

These meetings came on the heels of the National Summit on Defining a Strategy for Behavioral Health Information Management and Its Role Within the National Health Information Infrastructure in September, at which 150 invited members of six segments of behavioral healthcare submitted their recommendations for the behavioral health electronic health record (EHR).

Tom Trabin, PhD, executive director of the Software and Technology Vendors’ Association (SATVA), one of the summit's sponsors, highlighted several of the summit's recommendations at a presentation he gave at the IBHI: A public/private behavioral health group should be formed to coordinate and harmonize data standards and to incentivize strategies; broad-based training must be provided for the EHR; behavioral health perspectives should fit within the general health EHR; and behavioral health and human services need to be identified as a unique field with esoteric requirements for software design and information management. The summit planning group is on task to meet again to sort through additional recommendations. Watch for MHSIP (the Mental Health Statistics Improvement Program) and SATVA to post the proceedings on their Web sites ( and

Dr. Trabin's presentation was one of many at the IBHI, an attempt to resurrect the concept behind the Behavioral Healthcare Tomorrow/Behavioral Informatics Tomorrow conference of years past. More than 100 attendees hungry for IT came to learn why IT and EHRs are taking a more solid hold in behavioral health. Part of the reason was made blaringly clear in a conference presenter's quote that “75% of behavioral health organizations are still without agency-wide e-mail.” Attendees also learned that behavioral healthcare is about three years behind general healthcare in EHR adoption, but general healthcare only has 20 to 25% EHR adoption in hospitals and 10 to 15% EHR adoption in physician offices.

IBHI keynoter Richard J. Hillestad, PhD, of RAND Corp. outlined a RAND study that showed savings of approximately $77 billion per year after 90% EHR adoption in general healthcare. Yet perhaps Dr. Hillestad's most telling slide showed that even though there is substantial savings, hospitals stand to lose $30 billion in revenues from this 90% adoption!

Several presenters offered case studies of successful implementations but warned that agencies, small and large, need to do their homework internally and externally before purchasing. Issues of staff resistance, costs, and implementation times were discussed, along with helpful suggestions in overcoming these obstacles.

I came away from the conferences thinking that both the attendees and the vendors have their hands full. The more I thought about it, we all do, and

Behavioral Healthcare will be here to try to sort it out along with you. This first issue of

Behavioral Healthcareblends the best of

Behavioral Health Management and

Behavioral Healthcare Tomorrow to bring you the most timely, in-depth coverage of our changing, merging, data-charged industry.

J. Chip Drotos, MSW, CEAP, is Associate Publisher of

Behavioral Healthcare.