The ABCs of EHRs for Behavioral Health Organizations

If your behavioral health practice is like most, you have been busier than ever this year. Today’s challenges are manifold: applying and enforcing safety measures, navigating the new world of virtual therapy, and facing a new need for services due to pandemic-related increases in anxiety, depression and spikes in suicidal ideation. 

Struggling to meet demand, practices need new ways to streamline clinical and administrative processes and free up valuable practitioner time. While EHRs can help support overburdened clinicians and staff, drive business growth, expedite documentation and treatment notes, and automate processes, adoption among behavioral health clinics remains far too low. A recent study published in ScienceDirect revealed that fewer than 25% of all behavioral health practices have adopted an EHR for clinical use. 

Mental and behavioral health practices today need a flexible, behavioral-health specific EHR in place to help meet growing demand and continue delivering on the heart of every organization – to provide truly exceptional patient care. 

Behavioral Health has been Historically Overlooked

Since 2010, when the HITECH Act set aside nearly $26 billion to encourage the adoption of health information technology – including a nationwide network of electronic health records – providers have been incentivized to make “meaningful use” of technology within their practices. As of 2017, nearly 86% of all physicians with independent practices had an EHR in place. 

While physicians and hospitals were eligible for financial rewards, behavioral health providers were mostly overlooked. This meant the economic and technical barriers to adoption were simply too high. Without incentives in place to support EHR implementation and additional tech support costs, behavioral health practices were less likely to implement, despite the need. 

Thankfully, much has changed since those early days. The implementation process is greatly improved, from both a technical and a user adoption standpoint. Today’s EHRs are much more sophisticated, and offer workflows, features, and tools designed specifically to support behavioral health practices’ unique needs. 

Here’s why mental and behavioral health practices benefit from tools designed specifically for them.  

Supporting the Needs of Behavioral Health Practices

With a high variety of patient demographics, types of care, and multiple medical settings, mental, behavioral, and recovery practices require a uniquely flexible EHR.They require robust solutions that support their existing workflows, measure and track clinical outcomes, improve complex claims processing, and provide insights into financial and clinical performance with customizable dashboards. 

Practices need to ensure their EHR accommodates basic administrative functions, in order to maintain patient engagement and minimize the burden of repetitive administrative tasks on front office staff. At a minimum, practices and agencies should consider solutions that support client appointment scheduling and reminders, treatment progress notes, billing management, and support for discrete medication tracking, ordering, and fulfillment. 

The intensive nature of mental healthcare requires higher levels of data collection for various types of screenings, ongoing treatment, and referrals. From creating treatment plans to charting and documenting session notes, behavioral health professionals are responsible for creating copious, complicated processes that can quickly become overwhelming. To efficiently maintain records, keep up with regulatory changes, and confidentially share information, practices require adept tools that won’t interfere with direct patient care. Managing and safely sharing this information across provides necessitates high levels of interoperability, while maintaining stringent compliance with patient privacy regulations. 

Two checklists for evaluating EHR solutions for your practice

When evaluating an EHR solution for your organization, it can be difficult to know which one will be the “right fit.” With so many options out there, two exercises can help your team select a solution that will work for you. First, it’s critical to know your practice’s individual needs and areas where support is required. Second, selecting a flexible, behavioral-health specific vendor is key. Ensuring that your technology partner understands the unique demands of providing mental and behavioral health services will ensure your organization is supported on the three most critical levels: patient engagement, workflow and documentation, and regulation compliance. 

Identifying your behavioral health practice’s unique needs 

  • Where does our team spend the most time away from patient care? Can this be automated? 
  • Do our patients need to call us directly for test information, forms, personal records, scheduling, or prescription refills? 
  • Are we able to easily share patient records with their other critical providers? 
  • Is it difficult to track our practice’s performance across clinical, administrative and financial operations? 
  • Are we having difficulty keeping up with patient demand due to operational inefficiencies or staffing shortages? 
  • Are many of our billing claims initially rejected during processing? 


Key features to look for in any behavioral health-specific EHR vendor

  • Flexible, configurable workflows that adapt to your team’s priorities and preferences 
  • Tools that enable progressing tracking & measuring key clinical outcomes in order to demonstrate value
  • Robust, customizable dashboards that provide actionable insights into your practice’s financial and clinical operations
  • Interoperability to seamlessly support patient care and record sharing across various providers for a more holistic form of care 
  • Flexible patient charting to effortlessly capture notes 
  • Medication scheduling and monitoring to support inpatient floor staff
  • Certified compliant with CARF and JCAHO requirements 
  • Ability to conduct automated billing across insurance types
  • Scheduling modules that help internal staff, as well as patients with: self check-in, automated appointment reminders, documented co-pays and deductibles, receipt sharing, payment plans, coding by visit type, and more


An agile, robust EHR can provide a technical bonebone that improves your operations and makes possible greater levels of patient care – and even service line growth. With a plethora of EHR vendors to evaluate, the choice can quickly become overwhelming. By considering the unique needs of your behavioral health practice, your active providers and front office staff, and patient population, you will be certain to select the solution that is right for you. 

NextStep Solutions empowers behavioral health practices to operate at their best. If you would like to learn more about our agile solution and how it can support your practices’ operations and growth, please contact us today or request a demo with our team. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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