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Policy for Protection of Mental Health Records May Hinder Future Care

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 3, 2013

Policy for Protection of Mental Health Records May Hinder Future Care A new study discovers keeping an individual’s psychiatric files separate from the rest of a person’s medical record may compromise future medical care.

The practice of limiting access to medical care for mental health issues is an attempt to improve privacy and enhance confidentiality of an individual’s electronic health record.

However, a new study discovers keeping an individual’s psychiatric files separate from the rest of a person’s medical record may compromise future medical care.

In a survey of psychiatry departments at 18 of the top American hospitals as ranked by U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals in 2007, a Johns Hopkins team learned that fewer than half of the hospitals had all inpatient psychiatric records in their electronic medical record systems and that fewer than 25 percent gave non-psychiatrists full access to those records.

Moreover, psychiatric patients were 40 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within the first month after discharge in institutions that provided full access to those medical records.

“The big elephant in the room is the stigma,” says Adam I. Kaplin, M.D., Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the study published online in the International Journal of Medical Informatics.

“But there are unintended consequences of trying to protect the medical records of psychiatric patients. When you protect psychiatric patients in this way, you’re protecting them from getting better care. We’re not helping anyone by not treating these diseases as we would other types of maladies. In fact, we’re hurting our patients by not giving their medical doctors the full picture of their health.”

Kaplin says that as more and more hospitals embrace electronic medical records, many choose to exclude psychiatric illnesses, even if that means keeping vital information about diagnoses and medications from primary care doctors who need it.

After the surveys were completed, the researchers tapped the University Health System Consortium Clinical Database, which includes information on readmission rates on 13 of the hospitals in the study.

Researchers determined that at institutions where psychiatric records were included in the EMR, but non- psychiatrists were not given access to the records, psychiatric patients were 27 percent less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within a week of discharge with little statistical difference after two weeks and a month.

However, in hospitals where records were included in the EMR and non-psychiatrists were given access to them, patients were 40 percent less likely to be readmitted at seven days, 14 days and a month.

“If you have electronic medical records, that’s a good step in the right direction,” Kaplin says.

“But what you really need to do is share the records with non-psychiatrists. It will really make a difference in terms of quality of care and readmission rates. Let’s not keep mental health records out in the cold.”

The researchers found no difference in length of stay in the hospital, a marker for severity of illness, between patients whose records were shared or not, nor was there a difference found in overall readmission rates at the hospitals, suggesting that the higher readmission rate for the patients whose information was not shared was a psychiatry department issue, not a hospital-wide one, Kaplin notes.

Readmission rates have been a hot topic because the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has begun to penalize some hospitals financially for readmissions, seen by many as a marker for poor quality of care.

Kaplin argues that while non-psychiatrists don’t need access to all of the specifics of a patient’s psychiatric history, they need to know details about diagnoses, treatment and medications prescribed.

The latter is perhaps the most vital because drugs prescribed by a primary care doctor could produce bad interactions when mixed with psychiatric drugs that they are not aware have been prescribed by a psychiatrist.

Kaplin says it makes no sense that a physician can find out if a patient is being treated at the HIV clinic, for erectile dysfunction or for drug addiction, but not whether the patient is being treated for depression.

Information about depression can be critical, Kaplin says, because depression after a heart attack is the number one determinant of whether the patient will be alive one year later. Moreover, he says, by keeping psychiatric records separate, the stigma is perpetuated.

Federal legislation mandates that hospitals take great care to ensure confidentiality of patient records, electronic or not, and that information is used only by those with a need for it.

Expansion of electronic records increases the risk of exposure to sensitive information although the new technology also improves an organizations ability to perform internal audits.

For example, each access to an electronic record leaves behind an electronic fingerprint, and if someone without authorization accesses the records, a red flag goes up. Hospital staff members have been fired for improperly viewing medical records.

Source: Johns Hopkins Medicine

 

APA Reference
Nauert, R. (2013). Policy for Protection of Mental Health Records May Hinder Future Care. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2013/01/03/policy-for-protection-of-mental-health-records-may-hinder-future-care/49956.html