Physicians may find it challenging to find appropriate electronic medical record (EMR) software for their various practices because of the large amount and complexity of the software available. Understanding the criteria to use when searching for software, and knowing the different features of these software, can help streamline the process in finding suitable EMR software for your mental health practice. Start the search for suitable EMR software by focusing on software that is designed specifically for mental health providers or a similar specialty. Mental health EMR software is customized to deal with the unique characteristics of treating behavioral health / mental issues. Mental health involves a copious amount of patient observation and note-taking. As such, mental health EMR software is designed to facilitate note-taking either through handwriting recognition or touch screen keyboards on tablet computers, or transcription of verbal notes using integrated voice recognition software. If you are a specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who relies heavily on prescription medication for treating patients, the capability to ePrescribing (prescribe electronically) should be a prerequisite of any EMR you evaluate. ePrescribing greatly simplifies the prescription process and allows robust medication tracking. More importantly, when integrated with the right EMR, it can provide an alert system that can notify the mental health provider of any drug interactions, contraindications, or any allergy listed on their medical records.
At the start of software evaluation process, you should evaluate potential mental health EMR based on the following criteria:
- Practice Size: Some software is better suited to small practices, others to larger ones. EMR software is designed for a certain number and type of user, with scalability in mind. Make sure the software you select is appropriate for the number of mental health providers in your practice.
- Systems Architecture: You can purchase mental health EMR software that is installed directly on your computer servers on-site at your practice (“client-server”) or mental health EMR software that is located in the “cloud” that you access via the Internet (“cloud-based” or software-as-a-service “SaaS”). Some mental health providers prefer client-server based EMR software since they feel more comfortable with HIPAA compliance when they control all the underlying data on their systems, despite the need to maintain and upgrade these systems periodically. Other mental health providers choose cloud-based EMR software because it can be accessed almost anywhere through the Internet. However, you are reliant on your Internet connection, so you need to make sure the quality and consistency of your Internet service is high. It is worth reading about all the advantages and disadvantages of each type, to make sure you choose software with the systems architecture that best matches your needs.
- Certification: When selecting your mental health EMR, you should make sure that it is tested and certified by an ONC-Authorized Testing and Certification Body (“ONC-ATCB”). The ONC (Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology) is the responsible agency for establishing EMR certification standards and certifying vendor EMR products. ONC-ATCB certification assures that your EMR has met required Meaningful Use (“MU”) objectives and measures. This is a prerequisite to obtaining MU Medicaid (up to $63,750) and Medicare (up to $44,000) incentives for adopting an EMR, and avoiding penalties for not adopting one. To learn more about these topics, you may want to read the following articles:
Unique Features of Mental Health EMR software
Once you have narrowed down your EMR choices based on practice size, systems architecture, and certification, you can evaluate certain features that are unique to mental health practices.
Such features include:
- ICD/CPT codes specific to mental health
- GAF chart integration
- Handwriting recognition
- ePrescription capability
- Speech recognition
- Medication management and alerts
Mental health EMR vendors understand that not all specialties are alike. While there are a lot of similarities shared by all EMR software, you should be able to customize whatever EMR you choose to fit your specific needs.
To facilitate this, mental health EMR vendors offer a variety of pre-designed templates such as ones tailored for:
- Children and adolescents
- Geropsychiatric patients
- Bipolar disorder
- Substance abuse
- Personality disorder
While selecting a mental health EMR may seem like a daunting task, having familiarity with the basic selection criteria common to all EMR software as well as some of the features customized for your specialty can help you make the right choice for your practice.