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Why it’s time to embrace data

November 10, 2014

Healthcare reform has instigated fundamental changes in the delivery system, and many of the changes at this point are unstoppable. Even if the new GOP-led Congress successfully repeals the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the reform mindshift has already begun.

This is particularly true on the technology side. Don’t forget that key pieces of legislation—such as the HITECH Act under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009—stand apart from ACA.

No matter what happens in Washington, providers of all kinds will continue to adopt EHRs and strive for meaningful use. Value models will thrive, and data will be the backbone of everything from reimbursement to care decisions to insurance benefits.

I recently attended the Open Minds institute and pretty much everyone there told me it’s time for behavioral health providers to embrace the data. Here’s why.

1/ Today’s EHR systems are better than yesterday’s.

I spoke to Robert Capobianco of Core Solutions who told me that behavioral health is about seven years behind other disciplines in terms of adopting EHRs and data-driven processes. That’s not a criticism. Behavioral health providers clearly have several unique challenges—patient privacy and subjective inputs just to name a few—that make technology adoption significantly more complex than it is for your average primary care providers.

The good news is behavioral health might have an advantage in being a late adopter. The products that are emerging in the market now are more functional and better tailored to your needs. They aren’t so much on the bleeding edge any more, as many of the primary care products were years ago.

2/ Private equity is looking to invest in behavioral health technology companies.

I spoke to Tim Bechtold of Frontier Capital who told me that his firm is looking to invest in technology companies under $30 million that are a bit bootstrapped and need capital to grow. Bechtold also says Frontier isn’t the only investor in the space. What that means for providers is that more product innovation is coming thanks to the infusion of capital that’s on its way. Expect to find new products and services that you never even dreamed were possible.

3/ Legacy systems are being replaced by software as a service (SaaS).

I also spoke to Chris Williams of the Echo Group, and he told me that the self-hosted EHR option is still strong, but more SaaS implementations are coming in the future. What that means for providers is that more time and effort can be devoted to the core mission of caring for patients and running the business and less time will be required to keep EHR systems up to date. It’s a good thing. It means that innovation will come to you rather than the other way around.

4/ Health information exchange is possible even with the current limitations.

The Behavioral Health Data Exchange Consortium that was formed among five states in 2011 has successfully exchanged data within HIPAA and 42 CFR Part 2 rules. According to Samantha Meklir of the federal Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC), “It’s complex, but it can be done.” For example, Alabama Medicaid and Florida Medicaid agencies were able to exchange claims data.

“It’s our job to make sure patients are comfortable and to make sure they are protected,” said Kate Wetherby of SAMHSA, speaking at the conference. “But it’s also our job to make sure they get the best care possible.”

A big part of the challenge will be to convince patients that some data sharing is beneficial, but in the meantime, provider communities must convince each other that they’re ready to take on the task of wrestling with data and putting it to good use.

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