$25 Million Awarded For Behavioral Healthcare IT

Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will fund technology to coordinate treatment for people with mental health and substance use disorders.
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The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has awarded $25 million to help behavioral health organizations implement health IT to enable clinicians to access, manage, and monitor patient data.

The announcement of 29 new grants, which will be distributed over three years, seeks to help recipients leverage their existing technology to improve patient and physician communication, as well as improve coordination of treatment for mental and substance use disorders, especially for Americans in remote areas or underserved populations.

Specifically, the funding will support the purchase of new technology to expand the use of existing systems such as electronic health records (EHRs), Web-based services, smartphones, and behavioral health electronic applications (e-apps) with the aim of improving the discussion about treatment options and enhancing the decisionmaking process.

[Legally, electronic health records are double-edged swords: They protect clinicians from malpractice litigation but also put them at greater risk. See Will Your EHR Land You In Court?]

One grant recipient is Centerstone of Indiana, which consists of four mental health centers (three in Indiana and one in Tennessee), and serves approximately 70,000 patients whose medical information is stored in an EHR used by approximately 1,600 clinicians.

Executives at Centerstone said their $280,000 grant will be used to establish a Web-based Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) that will increase patient and provider communication and enhance treatment monitoring as a way to improve health outcomes for underserved persons with substance abuse disorders.

"Centerstone applied for this award in an effort to secure funding to use technology to enhance our Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC) program," Linda Grove-Paul, director of addiction and forensic services at Centerstone, told InformationWeek Healthcare. "With this funding, we will be able to expand the services we are currently providing at our clinic to individuals who are not currently accessing those services."

Grove-Paul also said Centerstone will employ a part-time IT project manager to coordinate the implementation of a Web portal for the ROSC as well as integrate the systems with its EHR.

"In our first year we will be contracting with a HealthVault solutions provider to offer comprehensive Web portal features for individuals with substance abuse disorders with multiple chronic care needs," Grove-Paul explained.

Over at the Northern Ohio Recovery Association (NORA), based in Cleveland, executives said they'll be using their $280,000 award to pay for software upgrades and IT consultants that will implement new technology and conduct staff training. NORA is a community-based substance abuse prevention and treatment organization that provides screening to over 400 individuals per year.

"The agency is in the process of streamlining our clinical records and billing system which is very expensive," Anita Bertrand, NORA's executive director at told InformationWeek Healthcare. "We do not have the capital to complete a project of this magnitude because software and hardware consultants charge a lot of money for their services."

SAMHSA administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a statement that the application of IT to healthcare is one of the most important advances in medicine.

"Technology now offers substance abuse treatment programs new ways to reach people in need of treatment and recovery support with safe, high-quality care. This grant program is part of SAMHSA's Strategic Initiative on Health Information Technology."

SAMHSA recently announced that it will provide up to $13.2 million in new grants to support the adoption of health IT at organizations serving people with mental and substance use disorders.