Posted By Amanda Girard On October 19, 2021
Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), Public Health 3.0, and Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) are all current topics in healthcare that encompass the idea of “whole person care”. Creating partnerships between patients and providers to create plans for health and wellness based upon the individual and their unique needs, circumstances, and life events is at the center of this paradigm shift. Because many areas contribute to health and wellness including emotional, financial, social, spiritual, occupational, and physical health; experts are finding holistic approaches to care are necessary. Education, housing, diet, income level, transportation, mental health and so many areas play into whole person care beyond medical interventions. This leaves healthcare experts around the world brainstorming how to connect disparate systems, services, and providers to work more effectively as a team to treat whole persons. In response, healthcare IT companies are innovating and evolving to create Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems that support the mission of whole person care.
How EHRs support Whole Person Care Clinically
Interoperable, Health Information Exchange
Creating certified EHR systems that are interoperable and can seamlessly exchange patient data from within a healthcare agency and with the entire health ecosystem is the first step to supporting whole person care on the clinical side. Practitioners should be able to quickly and safely exchange patient data between their EHR and different types of patient providers, hospitals, labs, Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), Immunization Registries, and ePrescription Networks. Working together to provide whole person care requires all clinicians to have access to the same records.
Billing and Reporting functions for Clinical Programs
A robust EHR system that supports whole person care must be able to do more than simple record exchange and also help meet requirements to offer programs that support the patient. Public Health, Community Health Centers (CHC), Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), and Behavioral Health clinics; especially, work often with patient care programs that accept various funding streams and have different reporting structures, data gathering requirements and billing rules. One EHR system should be able to manage these programs, connect to clearinghouses and various payment methods, and handle all reporting and billing challenges in order to reduce administrative load and support whole person care.
Modular Apps to Support Behavioral Health Integration
Modular EHR systems with applications that are available to help with individual patient needs go further in supporting whole person care. For example, primary care providers are often the first step in identifying behavioral health needs. Whether or not a health center has in-house behavioral health staff, their EHR should have screening, assessment and reporting tools available to them for depression, anxiety and controlled substance abuse. If there are in-house behavioral health staff, the EHR should support treatment plans and progress notes. Even if healthcare clinics are referring out patients for those services, having some behavioral health tools helps support Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) to start the process of assessment, refer the patient out, and then follow up with them to make sure the patient is supported throughout their care journey.
Bi-Directional Communication Features
Increasing patient communication and forms of access is another way EHRs can support integrated, whole person care. Robust patient portals with bi-directional communication flow offer patients and providers multiple ways to communicate easily and effectively between each other. Calls, emails, texts and other patient communications can be automated through an EHR system. Embedded EHR Telehealth solutions offer secure video capabilities to provide additional options for access to care as well.
Referral and Communication with Outside Provider Features
When referring patients to outside care providers, EHRs can support whole person care with messages to follow up if patients received their outside care. EHRs could also also sophisticated referrals through the system to coordinate directly with social workers through case management widgets. There may even be functionality to request an appointment for a patient with outside providers directly from within an EHR system.
How EHRs support Whole Person Care further
Reporting out functions for Social Determinants of Health
Beyond patient health records, EHRs can support whole person care by reporting out data about Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) to HIEs and networks like Carequality. If connected to these networks, programs that support housing, dietary needs, etc. can access data shared through population management features for Social Determinants of Health. Then program staff members can reach out to individuals that qualify to get them access to additional care outside of clinical care.
How EHRs can support Whole Person Care in the Future
While getting Social Determinants of Health information to programs through portals like Health Information Exchanges requires local, state, regional and perhaps federal participation; there could be a push in the future for more interoperability for EHRs to connect to these and provide that data. Could an EHR system even do a referral out for a patient to receive services for housing directly to a housing agency? Right now these things seem a long way off, but the same technologies that support the clinical application of whole person care could be applied to these use cases in the future. As healthcare experts continue to define the needs and challenges of providing whole person care, one thing is very clear – connectivity, communication, and collaboration are the way to foster it. The role of technology is to provide those in a seamless way. When you are shopping for EHRs for your healthcare clinic, be sure to consider which companies support innovations for whole person care even as they are still being developed.