Sharing sensitive behavioral health (BH) protected health information (PHI) can become difficult when faced with stringent privacy rules such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). So, how can behavioral health providers ensure their patients’ BH data can be shared with authorized care provider teams? One organization found a way.

Behavioral Health Information Network of Arizona (BHINAZ) is the first statewide health information exchange (HIE) for behavioral health providers, giving them the ability to share BH patient data regardless of the EHR or practice management software systems they send or receive data from.

But how did they do it? And how is BH data protected? The answer: interoperability and coordinated care.

Interoperability drives coordinated care

For data to be shared, it needs to be available to any provider, anytime and anywhere. Interoperability allows this by enabling secure PHI transfer, improving the provider’s opportunity to provide optimum treatment.

Interoperability enhances patient care. The more that interoperability is achieved, the more coordinated care becomes a value-producing reality.

Coordinated care: Three key pieces

  • Continuity: quality care as it’s delivered over time across care settings
  • Collaboration: physical, behavioral, and social health delivery and coordination
  • Transitions: patient movement from one care setting to another

What do all of these elements of coordinated care have in common? They all require patient data sharing, which is impossible without EHR and practice management systems that can be fully interoperable with vendor-agnostic HIE solutions.

Why it matters

Here’s an example of why a statewide HIE for behavioral health data can be so important. A young woman–I’ll call her Jane Doe–had just finished six months of physical and behavioral health treatment, as well as a 30-day inpatient rehab for substance abuse, when she was struck on her bike by a car in Phoenix, AZ.

Prior to the accident, Jane was being treated for her substance abuse and regularly seeing an OB/GYN to monitor her pregnancy. During every appointment, Jane was given the option to provide consent for her behavioral PHI to be shared with other providers on the extended care team. Although she provided consent during the appointments, Jane did not provide consent during her 30-day inpatient treatment. She didn’t want anyone to know she was being treated for substance abuse.

So when Jane arrived at the emergency department after the vehicle struck her, the only PHI provided to emergency personnel was information she approved via consent. This prevented her 30-day inpatient treatment information from being shared with the emergency department, even while she was unconscious. But, information collected during physical and behavioral appointments and OB/GYN visits was shared because consent was granted by Jane during those appointments.

BHINAZ HIE emergency staff was able to begin treating Jane and her baby in the ambulance, before ever arriving at the hospital. As a result, faster, more accurate treatment could be delivered based on key patient information that had been shared.

Interoperability makes coordinated care possible

The creation of BHINAZ is groundbreaking in so many ways. Other states have contacted us for guidance and I believe HIEs dedicated to the secure exchange of behavioral health data will be common across the nation in a very short time.

Behavioral health professionals unfamiliar with the role HIEs play to enable coordinated care should research the topic. We’ve written an eBook on BHINAZ  that can help. Try checking your state’s website to see whether your state department of mental or behavioral health is working on an HIE. And here’s the HHS.gov link to HIPAA Privacy rule and Sharing Information Related to Mental Health.