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Is Behavioral Health the Next Frontier for Innovation, Interoperability?

The predictions are in: 2016 is going to be a big year for mental and behavioral health. So the pundits say, and so I hope.

There’s reason to be optimistic, largely due to the creativity and impatience of today’s health IT industry. While today’s behavioral health system looks a lot like it did in the mid-20th century, the health technology community has had enough.

But before we can celebrate and highlight the advancements underway, we must understand and respect the challenges ahead. If you thought healthcare was a mess, when it comes to behavioral health, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet. Not only is mental health still somewhat taboo – it’s governed by nonsensical regulations that block all roads to openness or innovation.

So, what’s with the dysfunction? I turned to Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America, for some answers. And according to him, it has a lot to do with a privacy regulation signed back in the 1970s, known as 42 CFR Part 2.

It is this regulation that protects the records of thousands of federally funded drug and alcohol abuse treatment facilities, and extends that protection to millions more mental health patients. In short, individuals must provide approval for their information to be shared each and every time the record is moved – which makes seamless sharing of information nearly impossible.

In the words of Mr. Gionfriddo, who calls for a full repeal of 42 CFR Part 2, “We must stop viewing mental health as separate from medical health – you can’t treat a whole person with a partial record.”

It doesn’t help, either, that mental health continues to be a topic hidden in underground lairs of shame and silence.

But the health IT industry is tired of waiting and fed up with excuses. Companies are coming out of the woodwork to try and address this gaping hole in today’s system. A few notable standouts for me include:

  • AbilTo, a health services and IT company that treats behavioral health issues that interfere with medical recovery
  • Health Integrated, a care management solution that works with health plans to address the physical, psychological, and social drivers impacting member health
  • Lyra Health, a data/analytics company that identifies people who can benefit from mental health care, then uses technology to match patients to the right providers and treatments for their needs
  • Quartet Health, a population health tool that connects medical providers with behavioral health providers, and helps identify and engage populations with behavioral health conditions

These companies are at the forefront of one of the most exciting areas in healthcare today, and we can play a part in supporting them. Let’s begin by thinking about mental health as an illness in the same way that a chronic condition is an illness – and “not as a public safety issue,” says Mr. Gionfriddo. From there, we can establish clinical standards and interventions that catch issues before they turn into crises.

To accomplish this, technology has a massive role to play. Think about how companies like Arcadia Healthcare Solutions are applying big data to dramatically impact chronic care, and imagine what would happen if we took that approach to behavioral health.

Further, imagine what would happen if we could talk about mental illness in the same way that we talk about heart disease, COPD, and diabetes.

But today’s technologies and data reflect our mindset – walled off, silent, doomed to solitude. Let’s hope that the health IT industry, in partnership with organizations like Mental Health America, can end this shameful stalemate

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