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The demand for behavioral healthcare is skyrocketing—and the technology that supports the delivery of behavioral care is evolving in exciting ways to keep pace. Behavioral healthcare practices need to stay abreast of these changes—to maintain their relevance and continue to effectively serve a booming patient population.

Forces driving demand

The numbers are staggering. Approximately 46.6 million adults (1 in 5) in the United States experience mental illness in a given year.1 Many forces—growth in population, the rise of the average age, societal pressures, the prevalence of social media, widespread opioid use, and shrinking stigma associated with seeking care—are converging to turn up the pressure on clinicians to deliver more effective mental health treatment.

The government is also a driving force for change. In the past decade, federal legislation, such as the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, has led to increased availability of insurance coverage for behavioral health services, further driving demand.

What's more, the U.S. government, in an effort to address the opioid crisis, is allocating extensive funding for treatment programs. Between FY2017 and FY2018, funding specifically targeted to opioid use disorder treatment and recovery increased by $1.5 billion—from $599 million to $2.12 billion.2

Technology adapts to new demands in behavioral healthcare

Technology meets the call

Growth in demand necessitates innovation and more widespread adoption of technology to support behavioral health. One example of technology rising up to meet this demand is the emergence of phone and tablet applications (apps) to help people cope with mental health concerns.

People use apps to help manage conditions such as depression, address social problems such as bullying, and support treatment modalities such as cognitive behavioral therapy. For the most part, however, these apps are accessed outside of a professional clinical framework.

Upgrades in the practice setting

The use of technology is evolving in the formal practice setting as well. One of the most significant pending changes—a substantial percentage of behavioral healthcare practices are still using paper to document care. The pressure is on to join medical practices in switching to an electronic health record (EHR), a computer-based documentation and care management system.

Many behavioral healthcare groups have held back because, unlike large medical practices, they don't have sufficient IT staff or the technology infrastructure to self-host an EHR. Now, widespread availability of cloud-based hosting services makes migration to electronic documentation more financially viable. Further, increased prevalence of software-as-a-service (SaaS) options support going electronic—the cost is spread out over time, rather than paid upfront.

Meeting the demand for integrated care

Implementing an EHR can help behavioral healthcare practices address one of their most significant challenges in care delivery—fostering an integrated approach to the patient’s health. Consider the following:

  • The rising incidence of mental illness sharpens the demand for integrated care—in order to effectively treat patients, clinicians must have a view into physical health and mental status.
  • An EHR can help support managing and documenting medication-assisted treatment of opioid use disorders and meeting associated regulatory requirements.
  • Many patients seeking behavioral health treatment have co-morbid conditions such as diabetes and depression. When these comorbid conditions are addressed in unison via shared clinical information, patients are more likely to have better outcomes for both issues.
  • To effectively respond to a mental-health crisis, clinician need a full view of the patient's health, including any medications they’re taking and other relevant medical information.

Clinicians who see a full picture of patient health are positioned to provide better provide care. An EHR with an integrated database, which includes the patient's clinical, behavioral, and sociodemographic data, supports a holistic view into the patient's health and enables the development of a more effective treatment plan.

Content is king

Built-in behavioral health content:

  • Structures data entry in the EHR
  • Enables clinicians to spend more quality time with clientsPromotes easier, more efficient documentation of mental health concerns
  • Promotes easier, more efficient documentation of mental health concerns

The need for effective delivery of integrated healthcare in the United States has never been greater. Meeting this need requires engaged clinicians, support from dedicated administrative staff, and technology designed to meet the needs of behavioral healthcare practices. NextGen Healthcare is here to support this important and potentially life-saving mission.

1Mental Health by The Numbers, National Alliance on Mental Illness, accessed on May 28, 2019.
2Tracking Federal Funding to Combat the Opioid Crisis, Bipartisan Policy Center,, March 2019.


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Gary Steiner

NextGen Healthcare Specialty Director, Behavioral Health