Statewide Effort Aims to Improve Behavioral Health Care

Date: November 9th, 2011Category: CORHIO e-NewsletterTopics: HIE, Behavioral Health

Regional Meetings Are Helping Colorado Behavioral Health Providers and Consumers Collaborate to Improve Integration and Enhance the Use of HIE

According to a study published in the International Journal of Mental Health, individuals living with serious mental illness face an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions. Adults living with serious mental illness die 25 years earlier than other Americans, largely due to treatable medical conditions.

This is a statistic that is driving Colorado health care providers to find better ways to coordinate behavioral health care with physical health providers. Many providers believe that health information exchange (HIE) is likely to be an important component for assisting their efforts.

Yet, incorporating behavioral health information into HIE can be challenging due to practice-level policies, laws, and regulations that apply to mental health and substance use treatment information. The Behavioral Health HIE Integration Project, led by CORHIO and its project partners (see list below), aims to identify and address policy and practice barriers to integrating behavioral and physical health care services through HIE.

“Since behavioral health information can be considered more sensitive than physical health, we recognized the need to have a specific and targeted discussion about how to include behavioral health records in the development of HIE in the most appropriate manner – in a way that maintains and builds trust within the behavioral health community and between behavioral and physical health providers,” said CORHIO Policy Director, Liza Fox-Wylie.

Project Participants Will Develop & Implement Recommendations

Through building collaboration and consensus between behavioral health consumers and providers across Colorado, the Behavioral Health HIE Integration Project will develop and implement recommendations to facilitate integration of behavioral and physical health services through HIE, while understanding and addressing consumers’ needs for privacy and confidentiality.

The following organizations comprise the project’s Steering Committee:

  • Colorado Association of Alcohol & Drug Service Providers
  • Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council
  • Colorado Department of Human Services, Division of Behavioral Health
  • Colorado Mental Wellness Network
  • Community Reach Center
  • Federation of Families for Children’s
  • Mental Health Colorado Chapter
  • Metro Crisis Services          
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness – Colorado Chapter
  • Office of the Governor, State of Colorado
  • Quality Health Network

The structure of the project and its activities will provide for broad participation by many organizations and individuals through regional community meetings, ongoing workgroups, and coalition efforts that may be needed to enact policy and practice changes necessary to improve integration and facilitation of behavioral HIE.

Regional Meetings Across the State

Throughout October and November, CORHIO and its project partners are facilitating a series of regional meetings throughout the state to gather both behavioral health provider and consumer input. Due to the sensitive nature of behavioral health information, and to ensure the highest level of trust among attendees, community members must meet certain qualifications to participate in the meetings.

Striking a Balance Between Protecting Privacy and Providing High-Quality Health Care

Amanda Kearney-Smith, director of the Colorado Mental Wellness Network and member of the project’s Steering Committee, represents the voice of the mental health consumer community in Colorado. “Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental health conditions and some people fear that their diagnosis may fall into the wrong hands and will be used against them,” said Kearney-Smith. “We have to be sure to strike a careful balance between protecting individual privacy with the need to have comprehensive information available for high-quality health care treatment and services.”

Nearly 70 percent of adults with mental disorders have medical conditions. By facilitating behavioral health information sharing through HIE, providers would have immediate access to a patient’s medical history, medication history, and other information essential to identifying potential drug interactions or other issues that might influence the effectiveness of a course of treatment. The HIE facilitates the flow of critical clinical information and provides the tools to support more comprehensive, cohesive and patient-centered treatment.

To learn more about the Behavioral Health HIE Integration Project and upcoming meetings, please contact Caitlin Csakai at (720) 285-3235 or