Behavioral Health Information Technology: From Chaos to Clarity



    Only 30 percent of behavioral health providers use electronic health records
    New study says health IT doesn't capture clinical behavioral health data effectively


Health information technology (HIT) has the potential to help providers deliver safe, high-quality, cost-effective care. However, its use in behavioral health has been limited, despite the estimated 26 percent of American adults who live with a mental disorder in any given year. While 97 percent of U.S. hospitals and 74 percent of U.S. physicians have implemented interoperable electronic health records (EHRs), only 30 percent of behavioral health providers have done so. In a Commonwealth Fund–supported article in Health Affairs, researchers review HIT gaps and challenges in behavioral health and suggest some remedies.

What the Study Found

The researchers say key challenges include the inability of HIT systems to effectively capture clinical behavioral health information in a structured and standardized format, and the limited use of clinical decision support tools. More generally, the “siloed” nature of general health, mental health, and substance abuse care makes it difficult for providers to share important patient information.

The researchers make the following recommendations:

  • address the significant gaps in clinical terminology systems, specifically the Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine–Clinical Terms (SNOMED–CT) and Logical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes (LOINC)
  • include start-up costs for development and deployment of HIT use in behavioral health when developing bundled-payment policies
  • develop and implement technologies that are behind HIT hardware and software, including tools for clinical decision support and information exchange
  • require EHR vendors to implement more-robust security features.


Enhanced EHRs and HIT will allow behavioral health providers to use treatments more effectively and promote patient-centered care.

Publication Details

Publication Date: June 7, 2016
Authors: Harold Alan Pincus, Piper A. Ranallo, Amy M. Kilbourne, Angela S. Whatley
Contact: Mary Mahon, Vice President, Public Information, The Commonwealth Fund
Summary Writer: Deborah Lorber
P. Ranallo, A. M. Kilbourne, A. S. Whatley et al., “Behavioral Health Information Technology: From Chaos to Clarity,” Health Affairs, June 2016 35(6):1106–13.
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