Maine Receives Federal Contract to Connect Behavioral Health Care Community to Statewide Health Information Exchange

Portland, Maine – The State of Maine and HealthInfoNet have received a $600,000 contract to help support electronic sharing of health records among behavioral health providers and general medical providers in Maine. The contract was awarded by the Center for Integrated Health Solutions (CIHS), which is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA). Maine was one of only five states to be selected, adding to its long history of national leadership in health information technology. Other states awarded include Kentucky, Illinois, Oklahoma and Rhode Island.

The contract will provide 25 behavioral health care organizations and 200 individual Maine providers with new ways to securely share medical records including use of the health information exchange (HIE). With patient consent, behavioral health providers will be able to share information electronically with general medical care providers also involved in their patients’ care. This should lead to better coordinated care and reduced medication errors for behavioral health patients.

“It may sound simple, but sharing information between these two communities of care has proved very difficult,” said Dennis King, CEO of Spring Harbor Hospital, an inpatient mental health facility in Southern Maine. “Because behavioral health care has historically been separated from general health care services,” he explained, “many electronic health record systems have evolved without integrating mental health and substance abuse information.” He said this project comes at a pivotal time as these electronic systems move towards maturity.

“This has incredible potential to both improve care quality and reduce costs associated with behavioral health care in Maine,” said Mary Mayhew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and a HealthInfoNet board member. She added that numerous studies have shown that people with behavioral health conditions die younger and are more likely to develop chronic medical conditions than the general population.

In a recent blog post, Thomas Ansel, MD, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that Americans with major mental illness can die up to 32 years earlier than the general population. And while those with serious mental illness largely die of the same conditions as the general population — cancer, heart disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, and diabetes – they develop these conditions much earlier than everyone else. Furthermore, the latest estimate from the NIMH put the annual direct and indirect costs associated with serious mental illness at $300 billion.

To combat these statistics, many efforts are underway to integrate the treatment of mental illness into the general medical care structure. Many of these efforts are centered on improved collaboration and information sharing like the CIHS program.

Under the contract, HealthInfoNet will build the technical infrastructure needed to facilitate secure electronic health record sharing. This will include “connecting” behavioral health providers to the statewide HIE and developing a secure provider only email service.

HealthInfoNet has operated the statewide HIE for the State of Maine since it went operational in 2009; one of the nation’s first and most comprehensive. The HIE is a secure electronic system where health care providers share patient health information including allergies, prescriptions, medical conditions, and lab and test results to better coordinate and improve patient care.

HealthInfoNet will also use the funding to build upon the collaborative work of a statewide behavioral health information technology taskforce, which met throughout 2011. Funded through the Maine Health Access Foundation and led by the Daniel Hanley Center for Health Leadership, this taskforce developed a set of recommendations one of which involved development of consumer-informed communications tools to help patients and families understand how their health data is shared, why it’s important for patient safety, and how they can control access to that information.

Until a recent legal change, behavioral health provider organizations were unable to participate with the HIE. But LD 1331, passed by the Maine State Legislature in 2011, will allow patients to choose, for example, to share records created by their psychiatrist with their primary care doctor or others using HealthInfoNet’s system.

“True health care integration and coordination won’t work unless relevant clinical information can be shared in a secure manner across behavioral health and physical health sectors,” said John Edwards, PhD, a behavioral health IT taskforce member. “This project is a huge step forward and a major milestone for the behavioral health community in Maine and across the country.”

Photo: Representatives from the Office of the State Coordinator for Heath IT, HealthInfoNet, the Hanley Center for Health Leadership and members of the mental/behavioral health provider community at the first planning meeting in Washington, DC. From left: Shaun Alfreds, COO, HealthInfoNet, Geoff Miller, Associate Director, Maine Office of Substance Abuse, Kathryn Vezina, Associate Executive Director, Hanley Center for Health Leadership, Todd Rogow, Director of IT, HealthInfoNet, James Leonard, Director, Office of the State Coordinator for HIT, James Harnar, Executive Director, Hanley Center for Health Leadership, Dennis King, CEO, Spring Harbor Hospital, and John Edwards, PhD, Behavioral Health HIT Taskforce Member.