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Federal Behavioral Health IT enhancements

Federal Agencies Commit to Enhancing Behavioral Health IT

A pair of federal government agencies are putting muscle behind an effort to close an IT gap that has left some behavioral health providers ill-equipped to take full advantage of technology’s potential.


Directors of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) last month announced the launch of the Behavioral Health Information Technology Initiative. Fueled by a three-year commitment of more than $20 million from American Rescue Plan Act funds, the initiative will create a list of core data measures designed to support data alignment across mental health and substance use treatment settings.


“The project supports the [Department of Heath and Human Services] Roadmap for Behavioral Health Integration and is consistent with the President’s call to action to prevent, treat and provide long-term recovery supports for mental illness and substance use disorders,” ONC’s Micky Tripathi and SAMHSA’s Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon wrote in a blog posted last month on


The two leaders laid out the challenge within the behavioral health provider community. “Lack of access to health IT and associated higher-level capabilities and efficiencies (e.g., patient access, notifications, clinical decision support, care planning, data exchange, analytics and reporting) impact[s] behavioral health providers’ ability to provide access to treatment through tools such as telehealth,” they wrote. “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 federal agencies will review other health care data sets and will interview key leaders in the addiction and mental health fields as they work to identify draft data elements for the United States Core Data for Interoperability (USCDI) set. The draft will go out for public comment, with federal leaders promising multiple opportunities for input before the data set becomes final. SAMHSA block grant recipients will pilot test the data elements.


Tripathi and Delphin-Rittmon wrote that the content standards developed in this project “will support capturing key behavioral health data at the point of care (e.g., depression screening) to enhance care continuity between behavioral health providers and other clinical providers caring for the same patient. This will alleviate the reporting burden experienced by SAMHSA’s grantees by improving the ability of mental health and substance use treatment providers to measure, evaluate and report on the care they provide.”


Other tools that will be developed through this initiative will include a behavioral health information resource to guide providers as they move to integrate USCDI data elements into their practices. This will allow these providers to make inroads in areas such as addressing clinical priorities and improving organizational workflows.


“The data elements will be coordinated via a new USCDI+ domain for behavioral health to improve the effectiveness and reduce the costs of data capture, use and exchange for behavioral health providers,” Tripathi and Delphin-Rittmon wrote.


As a longtime supporter of advanced solutions for behavioral health professionals, we at Sigmund Software are energized by this strong commitment of federal resources for enhanced data collection and exchange. We will stand with our customers to help them gain full benefit from this national initiative to encourage interoperable exchange of data and to enhance patient care.