6% of Behavioral Health Facilities Use EHRs, Incentives and Guidances Could Move the Dial

When it comes to electronic health records utilization the behavioral health industry is lagging behind physical health facilities.

In fact, only 6% of behavioral health facilities and 29% of substance use disorder treatment centers use electronic health records (EHRs). That’s according to a new report from the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), a non-partisan legislative branch research agency. Meanwhile EHR utilization is more than 80% among hospitals. 

The agency attributes the low rates of utilization in part due to the lack of federal incentives. Notably, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, which gave medical practices incentives for adopting EHRs, excluded behavioral health providers.


In the report, MACPAC recommends that a number of federal stakeholders, including the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, The Secretary of Health and Human Services and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration work together to develop a “joint guidance on how states can use medicaid authorization and other federal resources” to boost IT adoption and interoperability among behavioral health providers.

The report also suggests that the federal agencies collaborate on a voluntary certification for behavioral health IT. 

Authors of the report note that EHR utilization can help contribute to more clinical information sharing.


“EHRs can foster clinical integration through data sharing, care coordination, and referral to treatment across the continuum of care,” authors of the report wrote. “They can promote coordinated care by allowing clinicians to readily update patient health information and distribute that information to authorized providers working in other settings.

“While EHRs on their own do not integrate patient care, the ability to share information among providers and between providers and patients is an important step toward this goal.”

However, the behavioral health space faces a number of barriers to EHR implementation. According to the report, the cost of EHR implementation, the lack of health IT guidance tools and the privacy requirements for substance use disorder care under 42 CFR Part 2 (Part 2) are potential hurdles for adoption.

Increasing the rates of EHR utilization among behavioral health providers has been a hot topic for some time. The Behavioral Health Information Technologies (BHIT) Now Act, which was first introduced in April, would appropriate $250 million over three fiscal federal years by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI) to help finance behavioral health EHR implementation.