SAMHSA Awards IT Grants for Behavioral Health

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) announced last week that it will award up to $13.2 million in health information technology (HIT) grants for mental and behavioral health care settings.  These grants will further SAMHSA's strategic initiatives for HIT over the next years and contribute to the national goals set forth in the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan released by the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) this September. 

SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde stated,

Electronic health records improve quality, accountability, and cost effectiveness of health care services.  Persons with behavioral health problems often have significant physical health issues as well.  These grants are a critical down payment on the health information technology investment needed to ensure behavioral health service providers are fully interoperable with the general health system.

Among the awards are one-year $200,000 grants to 47 community health centers working to integrate primary care with behavioral health services.  A $3.8M grant award to the National Council on Community Behavioral Health Care was also announced to assist state and community health centers with implementing EHRs. 

Integrating behavioral health data with primary care data is critical to coordination of care.  The new grants will be instrumental in developing the much-needed HIT infrastructure necessary for the exchange of behavioral health information among providers and health care facilities.  SAMHSA is actively working with ONC to address policies and standards concerning the unique needs of behavioral HIT adoption and information exchange. 

For more information and the list of grant recipients, visit SAMHSA's official news release here.  

ONC's Model PHR Notice Now Available to Vendors

Following the release of its Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) has made available a Personal Health Record (PHR) Model Privacy Notice for PHR vendors to use in communicating their data practices to individuals.  The Model PHR Notice is intended to clearly set forth the privacy and security policies of a PHR vendor and how an individual's information will be used and disclosed.

Use of the Model PHR Notice is entirely voluntary and does not require a PHR vendor to adopt specific practices. Rather, the purpose is to provide transparency, and therefore, if adopted, a PHR vendor may not alter the form and format of the notice and must provide accurate information on its data practices and policies. 

A key goal behind the Model PHR Notice is to promote trust in PHRs and competition on consumer-protective policies.  Likened to the FDA's nutrition facts labeling, the Model PHR Notice is intended to empower individuals to make informed choices when comparing PHRs as well as enable PHR vendors to present information in an accessible and consistent manner.  It is not, however, intended to replace more in-depth privacy notices. 

ONC has made available an online form for PHR vendors to easily enter their information in order to populate the Model PHR Notice. In addition, guidelines are available for PHR vendors in implementing the Model PHR Notice and for individuals in understanding how to use the notice. For more information on the Model PHR Notice and to access the template, visit ONC's PHR Model Privacy Notice website.    

ONC Releases Ambitious Health IT Strategic Plan

The Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) released its Federal Health Information Technology (IT) Strategic Plan this September, detailing its goals and strategies for transforming health care through health IT over the next five years.  An "ambitious" and "living document", the plan envisions a health care system that captures and uses information to empower individuals and improve health across the nation through health information and IT. 

The plan sets forth five key goals for the federal health IT agenda towards better technology, better information and the transformation of health care across the nation:

  • Adoption and Information Exchange through Meaningful Use of Health IT
  • Improve Care, Improve Population Health, and Reduce Health Care Costs through Use of Health IT
  • Inspire Confidence and Trust in Health IT
  • Empower Individuals with Health IT to Improve their Health and the Health Care System
  • Achieve Rapid Learning and Technological Advancement

The plan highlights current and future strategies and objectives undertaken by ONC and HHS to broaden privacy and security policies, achieve widespread transparency in how patient information is used and disclosed, increase patient access to information and education, and establish additional standards to support more advanced use of health IT.  In addition, it focuses on the key role of meaningful use of health IT through the Medicare/Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs. 

It also sets forth key policy areas to be addressed by HHS, including but not limited to: individual choice to participate in health information exchange, access limitations and transparency for electronic health information exchange, and secondary uses of health information for quality improvement, public health and research purposes. In addition, the plan highlights the need to improve technological solutions to allow for granularity of patient consent and data segmentation and current ONC efforts through its SHARP program to develop innovative means for doing so.  

Overall, the ONC's strategic plan is aggressive but by no means the end to planning.  As progress continues to be made, ONC will openly revisit, assess and update the plan as needed in coordination with federal, state and private and public stakeholders. To read the full plan, visit ONC's website.