2 min read

HIT and Mental Health

The Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., is a challenge to medicine. All of us must address it, even – or especially – those of us in HIT.

Only 35.7 percent of patients accessed some form of mental health treatment within 90 days of diagnosis, highlighting a major disparity in patient access to care, according to Patient Engagement HIT, citing The Journal of General Medicine. Its study was conducted using a Kaiser Permanente dataset of more than 240,000 patients

And what about those who are never even diagnosed?

We vendors cannot sit on the sidelines. Too seldom do we think of the “H” in HIT. Every vendor populates its website with happy physicians, happier (ethnic) patients and, ideally babies with rainbow eyes. And that’s that. That’s our medical stamp. Then we go back to the work of better living through computing.

But everyone, every niche vendor, is part of medicine, and it’s time we did our part. We may not be able to solve all problems in healthcare, but we sure as hell can use our combined expertise to take on the problem of mental health. Whether you call it Big Data or analytics, app or portal, bidirectional or interactive — this is something we can help with. This is what we do best.

As of Feb. 18, the population of the United States was 325,920,836. On any given year, more than 60 million Americans experience mental illness, according to The Association for Psychological Science. I have. It’s likely that you will too, someday. It’s a statistical fact.

Some are taking action. There are two reasons why I adore Melissa Benoist, the former Glee actress who now stars in Supergirl. The first is that she’s completely open about her battles with mental illness and has become an activist.

Benoist is merely one of the most visible personalities who are fighting the stigma of mental illness.  It remains crippling. “Despite the availability of effective evidence-based treatment, about 40 percent of individuals with serious mental illness do not receive care and many who begin an intervention fail to complete it,” according to the Association for Psychological Science.

I haven’t been at an HIT trade show for a long time, but when I visited them in the past, I made a point of stopping at EMR booths and asking what they did for mental health. The answer always was, “Nothing.”

Well, why?

“We just don’t do it.”

Back then I couldn’t believe that a whole branch of medicine was set aside. Today I think I know the real answer: There were no government incentives. At least now it appears that President Trump will finally allow the Centers for Disease Control to study mass shootings and their causes.

Meanwhile, instead of industry, we’ve had to rely on academia for innovation. We’re proud that just down the street the University of Wisconsin recently launched an online mental health resource.  It provides students, faculty and staff with 24-hour access to treatment for mild to moderate mental health issues.

Named “SilverCloud,” it allows individuals to confidentially manage symptoms. SilverCloud’s four content paths are depression, anxiety, stress and body image (a problem perhaps intensified on campuses).

It’s meant as a supplementary tool, only, but it connects with treatment and intervention services. It offers instant help to a population of 43,820 students, 21 percent of whom screen positive for depression, and 16 percent who screen positive for anxiety, according to the results of a 2016 study.

This is a laudable step. Can you imagine how much farther the commercial HIT industry could go? But who will pay for it? Or might we come together and work pro bono?

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