Delaware Health Care Commission announces Behavioral Health Electronic Medical Records Incentive Program

The "First State" is the first state to use federal grant funds for the implementation of electronic medical records systems for behavioral health providers.

By Hannah Calkins

The Delaware Health Care Commission (DHCC) has unveiled the Behavioral Health Electronic Medical Records Incentive Program, a three-year initiative to support the broad implementation and integration of electronic medical records (also known as electronic health records or EHR) systems for Delaware-based providers.

As part of the August 2016 announcement, the DHCC issued a request for behavioral and mental health care providers to submit application proposals for financial incentives to either purchase new EHR systems or upgrade existing ones. The program is funded through Delaware’s State Innovation Model grant, a national initiative launched by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

The program marks the first time a state has allocated federal funds for this purpose, said Doug Tynan, PhD, the director of Integrated Health Care in APA’s Practice Directorate. “There has been no federal funding for electronic health records for psychologists, so we need to look for funding at the state level,” he says. “Delaware is the first state to do this.”

A total of $500,000 in grant funds is available this year, with $300,000 and $200,000 available in subsequent funding periods.

“The program is meant to support behavioral health care providers in delivery of care, as well as support behavioral health care integration by facilitating information-sharing between providers,” said Traci Bolander, PsyD, a board member for the Delaware Center for Health Innovation.

Bolander, who also owns a multibranch outpatient practice called Mid-Atlantic Behavioral Health, said that very few behavioral health providers in Delaware have been able to afford EHR systems, making it difficult to coordinate with other providers and deliver effective integrated care. “EHR systems that integrate well with other medical records systems are very costly, so for this to happen for independent practices, funding is a must,” she said.

And yet, up to this point, funding opportunities for EHR systems have been focused solely on primary care providers. This disparity renders behavioral and mental health services a barrier to fully integrated care for patients, Bolander said.

Delaware’s incentive program signals a crucial step toward dismantling that barrier. “It’s finally being recognized not only that is mental health important, but that behavioral health providers need resources to undergo transformation in order to practice in a new, integrated world along with primary care providers,: Bolander said.

Bolander hopes that program is part of a broader national trend toward greater support for the expansion, implementation, and integration of EHR systems for mental and behavioral health care providers. “Our patients get some parity protection. Maybe now we can, too,” she said.

“The long persistent effort by the members and officers the Delaware Psychological Association made this possible,” Tynan said.

The application deadline for this round of funding was Oct. 3. The second round of funding for this period will open on Oct. 24, with all proposals due by Dec. 5, 2016.