Mixing Physical, Mental Health Data Lowers Readmissions

Posted on January 14, 2013 I Written By

Katherine Rourke is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

Ordinarily, it makes sense to treat psychiatric records with particular sensitivity, given how private these issues are for most patients.  Also, one might assume that medical doctors simply don’t need access to psychiatric records — and if so, why increase the risk of a  HIPAA breach by giving them needless data access?

Apparently, however, these assumptions may be working against patients, according to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins. A new study by researchers at the university found that in some cases, keeping mental health records separately from physical health records in an EMR as a privacy measure may actually decrease quality of care.

To examine this issue, researchers at Johns Hopkins surveyed the psychiatric departments at 18 of the hospitals ranked most highly by U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals of 2007, according to blogger Melissa Le Furge. The survey concluded that less than 25 percent of the hospitals allowed non-psychiatric physicians to have full access to patients’ mental health EMR data.  Not so surprising, given the current state of practice.

What’s really interesting, though, is that at the hospitals that allowed non-psychiatric clinicians to have access to mental health records, patients were 40 percent less likely to be admitted within a week of discharge than industry baseline.

Melissa notes that there are many reasons why this might be:

Depression and other mental illnesses sometimes make it difficult for patients to follow physicians’ instructions after a heart attack or stroke and are less likely to take proper care of themselves…[Also,] being uninformed about medications prescribed by a psychiatrist can cause the primary care physician to prescribe medications that create adverse reactions.

Segregating mental health records may make sense from a social standpoint, but perhaps it’s not good medicine. At minimum, this issue deserves further study.