Posted By Dayna Riddle On January 9, 2023

The Mental Health Matters Act– EHR Functionalities for School Health

The Mental Health Matters Act is a proposal to address the mental health needs in schools across the United States. The bill passed in September 2022 by the U.S. House of Representatives due to the staggering statistics of students and educators suffering from mental health issues. Last year alone, over 44% of high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

To combat this mental health crisis, the Mental Health Matters Act will provide $200 million annually to increase school-based mental health providers and social workers, specifically in high-need areas. This grant program will also aim to increase students’ access to mental health services by connecting schools with local behavioral health organizations, among other related solutions. 

With these new grants, public schools and behavioral health organizations may fund tools to assist you in managing mental health care in your community. Electronic Health Records (EHRs) are one such solution that can assist you in data collection and treatment tracking. With an integrated EHR, you can also have practice management and billing capabilities within one, streamlined solution.

In addition to those standard EHR functions, and those included in an integrated EHR system, there are many specific functionalities that your school should look for when choosing an EHR to support your community’s behavioral health wellness. These can make a difference for your students to make sure no one is left behind.  

1. Caseload Management

To limit wasted time and effort, and assist in reporting, your school health department or healthcare organization can take advantage of an EHR that has a caseload management function

A caseload management tool allows staff to easily see and manage any assigned clients and upcoming tasks for clear tracking and management. It can include notifications of critical document due dates, and authorization expirations, in addition to tracking last-seen dates. You may struggle to view and track no-shows or cancellations. This is common in many school health and other healthcare organizations. Caseload Management functionalities cover all of these and allow your nurses and other staff to know where to direct their attention. Oversight by management to see all staff caseloads in one, easy-to-view place helps to support overall strategies for community wellness.

Viewing all your students in one place is essential to making sure everything gets done in a timely manner so that no clients are left by the wayside. 

2. Appointment Reminders

Used with a caseload management tool, an appointment reminder function in your EHR can let health staff send out appointment reminders in addition to tracking no-shows or cancellations, saving staff effort and making sure students get to their appointments, even with a busy schedule. 

Some EHRs have the function to send messages to any clients in their database. In the case of behavioral health needs, a communicator feature can also send out messages with tips for mental health, for example. A recent study showed that nearly 20% of high school students had seriously considered committing suicide. If your school health nurse would like to send out mental health tips for combating seasonal depression, for example, they can message the entire database with just one click of a button. 

Another example is a specific message advertising your staff counselor for students who may need assistance during finals season. In some EHRs, these messages can be configured to filter out certain groups of students, like those who have already met with a counselor this semester. Automated outreach to mass groups saves valuable time for school health staff, as they don’t have to send out reminders or messages one at a time. 

3. Referral orders

A referral orders functionality embedded in your EHR helps you make sure every student is accounted for and gets the treatment they need, even if that service isn’t included in your organization. For example, a student may come into a school nurse’s clinic with symptoms of depression. The school nurse could send a referral order to a behavioral health organization that could provide that student with therapy, medication, or other mental health resources if there is not a school counselor available to them. Even if there is a school counselor, you may want to refer to a specialist that can provide additional care or administer medications.

An EHR solution with this feature can even track this referral from the first point of contact, all the way through to the treatment process and discharge. This ensures that your students are getting the help and resources they need. Some EHRs also allow you to track referrals by status as well as scheduled follow-up times, right from your dashboard. It can be helpful for an overwhelmed and busy student to be reminded when they need a check-up. Being proactive about your students’ health outside of the school setting can make all the difference.

4. Interoperability between health organizations

In order to best take advantage of a referral orders workflow, an EHR must support interoperability between all organizations and care providers. The National Association for School Health Nurses says, “Interoperability of records with other members of the healthcare and school-based teams facilitates optimal student/population health and academic outcomes.” Interoperability means that health organizations can communicate with each other through their electronic records and exchange data. 

Having an EHR that supports interoperability is important for supporting whole-person care. It allows information sharing between providers so that each student can receive healthcare personalized to them and their unique needs by ensuring all providers have a big-picture view of their entire clinical chart. Interoperability of client records can also help support and address the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH). Creating an ecosystem that seamlessly exchanges client data in a safe, secure way allows all clinicians and health providers in the community to have the same records, for clear communication and enhanced client care. This is how you know your students will get the best care possible.

Furthermore, EHR interoperability supports program reporting requirements to get funding. With this funding, your school can continue to get the financial support and tools needed to provide your students with the best care possible. 

5. Confidentiality, security, and privacy

It is extremely important for EHRs to be HIPAA-compliant. This means that your software protects the privacy and security of the health information of the organization, especially for underage students in primary or secondary schools. Also, some EHR vendors have security certifications issued by reputable accrediting agencies and are promoting interoperability certified. They may also provide additional layers of security for your client’s data, like a 2-step verification feature or availability to a security risk assessment. Having an EHR vendor that provides regular data backups, a great incident response, and contingency plans in place in the event of an attack is also advisable.

Combating mental/behavioral health crises across the United States is a joint effort. With this new act and associated grants, students’ need for increased mental health services can be addressed, and tools to assist (like EHRs) can increase staff efficiency and services provided. 

About Patagonia Health, Inc.

Patagonia Health’s integrated EHR, Practice Management, and Billing solution is designed to improve departmental workflows using apps and cloud-based technology. Our company was founded with a focus on providing technology solutions with highly referenceable customer service. We collaborate with public and behavioral health organizations to develop advanced features,  empowering them to improve the well-being of their communities. Our federally-certified software enables our customers to achieve their desired health outcomes. We serve those who serve others. If you’d like more information about our solutions, contact us today.

About Dayna Riddle

Dayna is a marketing associate at Patagonia Health, an Electronic Health Records (EHR) software company serving Public and Behavioral Health departments across the United States. She creates content, manages social media, and assists in marketing strategies, while supporting her efforts with a passion for health.