Mental health and healthcare IT

Mental or behavioral health poses some particularly thorny challenges for both HIT vendors and their customers alike. Patients with behavioral conditions and co-morbidities have very specific needs associated with their conditions that can significantly impact which best practices for care and communications apply to them. We have blogged recently about some of the support for extending meaningful use incentives to behavioral health practices, but I want to take a little step back and address the tremendous benefits health IT can have for behavioral care and to call on my colleagues in the industry to focus on this critical area.

My company is one of the leading providers of disease management solutions for behavioral health in the Netherlands, where we have learned a great deal about how to best use IT to support these communities. It turns out that portals in particular are exceptionally effective tools for working with these populations, and the reasons for that are interesting and perhaps a little contradictory. What I mean is that portals work very well for many kinds of behavioral health patients both because they are a good way for patients to get the care and support they need while staying anonymous, and because they are a good way to make it much easier for family and friends to participate in the patient's care.

Many patients with behavioral health issues are very interested in keeping their condition as private as possible. They want to participate in their care program, do everything they can to effectively manage and treat their condition, but they want to do it as inconspicuously as possible. Portals that are well integrated with an effective disease management platform allow patients to participate in highly effective, customized care programs largely from the comfort of their own home or office. Portals are a great way for them to check in with care providers on any ongoing metrics or milestones they are tracking, and to report progress or concerns. Portals also offer a convenient way to distribute useful educational and informational resources to patients. Another powerful feature of a good portal platform for behavioral health is the ability to support community-style communication amongst patients with similar conditions. This kind of peer-to-peer support can be extremely valuable to patients with many kinds of behavioral conditions.

The other benefit of portal-based communication and care management for behavioral health is that it is a mode of care that patients can engage in at their own pace and on their own schedule. This is important not just from the perspective of being able to keep their care activity private, but also because there are many conditions that make it difficult for patients to have the energy or inclination to engage in care at certain times. With the ability to go at their own pace and on their own time, we have noticed a higher success rate in patient care compliance, with a higher quality of patient engagement.

For dementia patients, in contrast, anonymity is much less of a concern. In fact, the ability of portals to efficiently bring the patient’s family, friends and care support network in to their care process is a big plus. Because Alzheimer’s and other dementia-oriented disorders can have such a devastating impact on the patient’s ability to manage their own care effectively, portals that support communications among caregivers and other members of the patient's support system are a tremendous boon. In the Netherlands, this phenomenon of patient-centric micro-communities of care and support is so widespread, they introduced the term “Mantelzorgers” (which roughly translates to “blanket of care”) and designated a special day (der Dag van de Mantelzorg) to commemorate and foster these circles of informal care. Supporting this community with our HIT platforms had been a tremendously rewarding experience and one which has really brought home to us the power technology can have to transform care -- not on its own, but by empowering the people who provide and engage in care.

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