When the EMR (electronic medical records) software market first emerged, behavioral and mental health professionals had very few available choices designed to suit their specific needs. Many ended up settling for medically-oriented EMRs that, despite including custom templates designed for their specialty, weren’t entirely suited to their needs.
Lately, however, the tide has turned. Specialty healthcare providers — including mental health and behavioral health providers — have begun to demand EMRs designed specifically for their needs. In some cases, that involves medical EMRs with robust, well-constructed modules focused on their specialty. In many other cases, however, behavioral health providers are opting for specialty-specific systems.
The EMR industry has jumped at the chance to meet this need, so today there’s a wide range of behavioral health EMR and mental health EMR software systems available. The key differences between these specialty EMR systems include:
- Whether they offer a standalone EMR product or an EMR/practice management combination
- Whether they’re cloud-based or offer both cloud-based and on-premise options
- The extent to which they offer electronic payment options, such as debit and credit cards
- Whether their EMR is Meaningful Use certified (relevant if physicians use the system)
- The extent to which they support financial functions such as ICD-10 coding, electronic claims submission and revenue reporting
Before we jump to the top 7 behavioral / mental health vendors, we wanting to guide you on some criteria to make your decision. If you’d like to skip to the vendor recommendations, click here.
Choosing a behavioral or mental health EMR can be very complicated, since you need to find one that works for your specific practice. Searching for behavioral and mental health EMRs can be broken down into two main steps. The first step involves assessing your needs. The better you understand your EMR requirements, the more likely it is that your purchase will pay off, both clinically and financially.
The second step involves evaluating potential EMR vendors using your list of needs. At first glance, it’s difficult to differentiate one specialty EMR system from the next, much less rank them. But if you carefully adhere to your requirements, you can find an EMR that makes it easier to share patient records, improves your billing process and makes health records accessible to anyone with a mobile device.
To help your behavioral and mental health EMR search go a little smoother, let’s break down both of these steps:
Step 1: Scoping Out Your Behavioral and Mental Health EMR Requirements
Before you start looking for a specialty EMR, you first need to know exactly what features you need. This is important so that you don’t accidentally implement a vendor that doesn’t have a crucial feature. So as you’re gathering those requirements, ask yourself a few questions:
What Type of EMR Do We Need?
The first thing to consider is what types of EMRs there are. To decide which EMRs to rule in/rule out, start with the following questions:
- How many of our clinicians need access to the EMR?
- Does our behavioral health subspecialty (e.g. substance abuse treatment) call for a customized system?
- Do we have enough IT support to manage an EMR in-house, or would it be better to subscribe to an EMR online?
- Do we need a specific behavioral health EMR, or will a medically-focused EMR meet our requirements?
It’s a truism, but it bears repeating: the better you understand your EMR requirements, the more likely it is that you’ll get the system you want.
What Do Our Clinicians Need?
Determining what your clinicians need is a very important step in defining your EMR requirements. If your clinicians don’t feel comfortable with the system, it’s not likely to offer much benefit to your organization. Important questions to ask include:
- What do our providers like and dislike about the current EMR (if you’re replacing an existing system)?
- What features and functions would our clinicians like to see in a new EMR? Why?
- Does the system we’re evaluating let users design templates for documenting their clinical encounters?
- Does the system provide tools for customizing their workflows?
- What steps have other behavioral health organizations taken to be sure that their EMR meets provider needs?
Sadly, many organizations don’t listen to their frontline clinicians, so they end up buying EMRs that they can’t or don’t want to use. Don’t make this mistake.
What are Our Financial Requirements?
There’s a few major factors that influence how much you spend on your EMR system, but none of them pose a problem if you’re prepared. To make sure that your EMR purchase meets your financial needs, ask yourself these questions:
- What’s included as part of the EMR purchase price?
- Is it more cost-efficient to provide our own user training, maintenance and tech support for the EMR system, or would we prefer to pay the vendor for some or all of these functions?
- Are we willing to pay more for certain features, or do we need to stay within a predetermined level of spending?
- What does the EMR vendor charge for customized modules that add to the system’s functionality?
Be aware that buying an EMR isn’t unlike purchasing a new car. If you’re not sure what you’re able to spend, and what the price should include, you’re not likely to get the best deal. You don’t want to end up paying for add-ons and services that you don’t need.
Do We Need Additional Help?
Most organizations would rather not pay outside experts to help with the EMR software buying process. But the truth is, sometimes that’s what it takes to get the job done right. It doesn’t make sense to nickel-and-dime yourself when you’re contemplating such an important investment. Sort out what you might need by asking the following questions:
- Should we hire an outside consultant to gather information on clinician requirements?
- Will we need to bring on part- or full-time IT professionals to take care of the EMR implementation or maintenance? If so, would it be more or less efficient to hire an outside IT consultant?
- Can we find someone in-house to train users on the new EMR system, or should we hire an outside expert?
- Do we need to retain an attorney to participate in our EMR vendor negotiations?
No matter what size your behavioral health organization is, buying an EMR represents a big investment for virtually any organization. But by identifying your key requirements — and issues that might otherwise have gone unnoticed — you have a much better chance of making your behavioral health EMR investment a success.
Step 2: Evaluating the Leading Behavioral and Mental Health EMR Providers
The following seven vendors are the behavioral and mental health EMRs mentioned most by providers in an informal survey we conducted. This is an overview of each vendor, along with their core software products:
The company’s core offering is the CareLogic EMR, a web-based system designed for behavioral health and human services organizations. Its features include an electronic patient record and billing engine, along with quality improvement, reporting and administrative dashboards. Other capabilities include front desk tools, referral management and service requests via a point of entry module.
CareLogic also generates claims automatically, with patient service documentation feeding into the billing engine once clinicians complete their services. In addition, the EMR allows patients to create custom service documents and forms that reflect their specific needs.
NetSmart takes a very patient-centered approach to its EMR. It builds on its CareFabric platform, which offers solutions for addiction treatment, behavioral health, child and family services, home health, hospice, private duty and palliative care, intellectual and developmental disabilities, long-term care and public sector/public health.
Netsmart also offers a set of revenue cycle management services supported by its RCM consulting team, and its care management solution supports care coordination and population health data.
Cerner is an enterprise EMR vendor whose business focuses primarily on hospital clients. The company’s approach to behavioral health is to meld this data with data from other providers, including hospitals and long-term post-acute care centers. It integrates behavioral health with these other providers to care for patients across the continuum of care in an effort to avoid medical errors that can occur during times of transition.
Valant has developed a proprietary platform serving larger behavioral therapy organizations. Offering a mobile app-inspired, user-friendly interface, it provides three modules for practitioners in private practice:
- Non-Prescribers Suite: Designed to offer documentation and assessment tools needed by therapists
- Prescribers Suite: Built to support psychiatrists, this module is certified for Meaningful Use and integrated with tools for ePrescribing and ePrescribing for controlled substances
- Group Practice Suite: Includes a practice management system, offering scheduling, billing and reporting functions
Echo Group’s core product is the Visual Health Record/Clinician’s Desktop. Clinician’s Desktop, which is certified for Meaningful Use Stage 2, offers a predefined treatment plan content builder, a form designer and reporting tools. Customers can host the software themselves or access it via the cloud.
Its products are certified for compliance in reporting data to Meaningful Use incentive programs.
SimplePractice is designed for therapists, social workers, psychologists and counselors. Its features include support for progress, chart and psychotherapy notes, ICD-10 autocomplete, treatment plan tracking and support for mental status exams.
It also offers credit card processing, autopay functions, electronic claim filing, a secure messaging platform and a patient portal.
The TherapyNotes platform includes both practice management and EMR software. The system includes the ability to track clinician schedules, patient appointments with corresponding notes and billing within the scheduling software.
Its EMR-based note-taking features are built around forms designed for psychology, therapy, counseling, social work and psychiatry. This includes form-based note templates for treatment plans, progress notes and psychological evaluations.
Therapy Notes’ practice management functions include one-click electronic claims submission, direct receipt of Electronic Remittance Advice from some insurance companies, credit/debit/HSA card processing and the ability to generate patient statements, superbills, CMS 1500 forms and financial reports.
Other Behavioral Health EMRs
While these seven behavioral health EMRs stand out among industry observers, other systems include:
- Sigmund Software
- NextStep Solutions
- Dr Cloud EMR
Generally speaking, these systems are similar to those listed above, but for varied reasons they haven’t experienced the higher visibility that the top seven systems have. This may very well be due to the large number of EMRs available on the market rather than their quality or ability to meet the specialized demands of behavioral health organizations.
Ultimately — and we can’t stress this enough — you need to adhere to your EMR requirements list in order to guide your vendor choices. Sometimes a lesser-known system will serve a behavioral or mental health practice’s needs as well as those developed by vendors with a larger marketing budget.
If your organization knows what it needs to support its clinicians effectively, you’re far more likely to end up making the right choice among the many behavioral and mental health EMRs on the market. Every organization has different workflow patterns, different clinical styles and different administrative issues to address. If you thoroughly screen several EMR vendors against your specific requirements, your investment is likely to be a success.