What's "IT" To You?

It's no secret that Information Technology (IT) is changing the way professionals work in mental health and addictions treatment...and what's that mean to you?

For treatment professionals, information is king, the key to delivering solid help to people who need it. That information is available in existing banks of information, contributing to an effective decision support system. The systems help assure the information is used properly to diagnose and treat problems, and without the information, both from professional resources and the consumer's personal health disclosures, systems can still lead down the road to a bad statistics and ineffective treatment.

As workflows change in provider agencies like your local CMHC or addiction treatment facility, you'll see a lot more of your records on screen...the record is not a secret, consumers have a right to know what's in their record. By now, consumers should be walking through assessments for a quick evaluation of problems and measuring improvement during a visit. Counselors are involving consumers in building a treatment plan on the computer screen. Progress Notes are being included as a part of a session to make sure the next steps for the consumer and professional are mutually understood.

It's all good. It wasn't that long ago that most consumers wouldn't have thought to ask for access to any of this paperwork. The fact is, in that paperwork are the keys to a better life.

Throughout all this paperwork, decision support is becoming interwoven, and valuable treatment information is being presented when it's needed most.

The Internet and a number of paid research sources available on the computer can help the professional provide a diagnosis and treatment to a problem that may otherwise be mis-diagnosed and mistreated...as many as 70 percent of mental health problems are in this category. Dennis Morrison's article in The National Council's magazine on Healthcare Reform brings up an interesting case of mistaken diagnosis and treatment with potentially catastrophic outcomes. His case has a happy ending, because the right information was available on the computer. This example of effective decision support shows how IT can lead to lowering the ratio of mis-diagnosed and mistreated mental health problems.

Occasionally, I still hear mental health and addictions professionals complain that they are not "computer people". Who is? We're all on this planet with each other.

The computer is just a machine to record and spew out data...a decision support system will hopefully assure the data that presents itself leads to happier lives for real people who are being treated, not a happier computer. Decision support systems deliver information at the right time during treatment to offer alternatives that make sense, and some that don't. If a professional is not presented alternatives to the same old way of treating consumers, nothing changes. If nothing about treatment changes consumers don't improve, and that abysmal figure mentioned earlier, up to 70% mistreated mental health problems, doesn't improve.

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act has spawned a number of ways for provider organizations to improve their IT systems. Most computer systems out there these days have some decision support alternatives available. For the ones that don't, perhaps market pressure to provide that sort of functionality needs to be applied. The money's available in a number of healthcare grant programs, and political pressure is coming to bear to provide more help for mental health and addictions specifically.

Some providers, like Dennis Morrison are getting the picture and moving full speed ahead. Decision support will help improve care, and Information Technology drives these improvements.