The ultimate goal of widespread adoption of health information technology – to save American lives through improved coordination of care – is particularly relevant to persons with mental and addictive disorders. According to an eight-state study issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in December 2006, individuals with serious mental illnesses served by public mental health authorities die – on average – 25 years sooner than other Americans.

SAMHSA directly linked this troubling mortality data to the high incidence of untreated co-occurring chronic medical conditions in this patient population including cancer, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, and cardio-pulmonary conditions. It has been reported that hospitalized patients with bipolar disorder have mortality rates that ranged from 35% to 200% higher than any other patients; again, the cause of death was co-occurring chronic diseases.

Health information technology (HIT) is the essential cornerstone of efforts to address this emerging public health crisis. HIT will enable behavioral health and substance abuse providers to effectively coordinate care across mental health and substance abuse service systems, primary care entities, and specialty medicine.

Psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers are critical parts of the overall healthcare delivery system, and these organizations have made great strides in beginning to implement health IT to help improve the delivery of behavioral health care and to better coordinate with overall health care.

Psychiatric hospitals and residential treatment centers treat a high proportion of Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Much more needs to be done, and financial support by the federal government will be critical to ensuring that behavioral health providers will be able to take the next step in fully implementing health IT along with other hospitals and healthcare providers.

NABH is also working as part of the Behavioral Health Information Technology Coalition to educate Congress about the need to extend health IT incentives to behavioral health.