How will electronic medical records (EMRs) change mental health care?

Staff Members at Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill

During your primary care visit, you may notice that your doctor spends time typing or looking at a computer screen. After your visit, they will likely spend another 5-15 minutes typing your visit information into an electronic medical record, or EMR. The EMR contains all the information you would expect to see in a paper chart, like medical history, progress notes, medications, allergies, and demographic information. Since the EMR information is digital, it can be manipulated in many helpful ways, including remote access, coordination of care with a hospital system, transferring records, and generating reports to monitor practice efficiency and quality.

However, during your mental health provider visit, you rarely see any typing or computers. The traditional therapist may jot a few notes on paper and put it in a folder with your name on it. Many psychiatrists and therapists have been avoiding EMRs because: 1) they are not required to use EMRs, 2) they do not see how EMRs can help their practice, and 3) they worry that the computer is a barrier to the therapeutic relationship.

Given the federal mandate for all Medicaid and Medicare recipients to use EMRs, it appears that the public mental health providers will soon be leading the way for EMR use. When there is more demand for mental health EMRs, vendors will create better and more cost-effective EMRs for mental health providers. As the older generation of psychiatrists and therapists retire and younger professionals start their practices, it is likely that EMR use will increase dramatically.

What does this mean for the mental health consumer? First, you will see more computers and typing during visits. Some providers will integrate this process seamlessly, but others will stumble and create awkward moments. Second, EMRs will facilitate the transfer of information from one provider to the next so you don’t have to remember all your past treatments and outcomes. Third, you will have increased access to your mental health records; EMRs will be required to have a “patient portal” where you will be able to login to a website and immediately access your medications, your labwork, and your problem list. Given that part of a therapist’s job is to work carefully with an individual regarding difficult diagnoses, consumer access to the diagnosis list will create new opportunities for both communication and miscommunication. Last, the mental health provider can use their EMR to study efficiency and quality in their practice which hopefully will improve your experience and treatment outcomes.

Live Mentally Healthy,
Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill

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