ONC, SAMHSA Team Up on $20M Behavioral Health IT Initiative

Federal agencies are looking to give behavioral health providers a technology boost.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) will invest $20 million over the next three years on a program to help promote IT in behavioral health care settings.

Behavioral health providers have trailed behind their physical health counterparts when implementing electronic health records (EHRs) and other technologies. That is partly because behavioral health providers were left out of the 2009 HITECH Act, which gave health care providers funding to encourage the “meaningful use” of EHRs.


“Lack of access to health IT and associated higher-level capabilities and efficiencies … impact behavioral health providers’ ability to provide access to treatment through tools such as telehealth,” Micky Tripathi, the National Coordinator for Health IT at the Department of Health and Human Services and Miriam Deplphi-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, wrote in a blog. “It also limits integration of behavioral health data with primary care and other physical health entities, posing a major barrier to the interoperable exchange of behavioral health data across the care continuum.”

The new program will work with SAMHSA’s Substance Use Prevention, Treatment and Recovery Service Block Grant and Community Mental Health Services Block Grant recipients to pilot a new set of behavioral health-specific data elements. The goal is to improve effectiveness and reduce the cost of data capture.

The initiative will support a new United States Core Data for Interoperability Plus (USCDI+) domain designed to help capture key behavioral health data points, such as depression screenings, and to improve continuity between behavioral health clinicians and others caring for the same patients.


This isn’t the first time behavioral health IT has been spotlighted in Washington. In August, lawmakers introduced a new bill to fund EHRs and other technologies for behavioral health providers.

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