7 Ways EHR Systems Offer Value to Mental Health Providers

And Meet the Challenges of Increasing Patient Volume

By Alena Nikuliak, Senior Business Analyst and Healthcare IT Consultant, ScienceSoft
Twitter: @ScienceSoft

The challenges healthcare providers face in managing patient mental health are multitude. The mental health situation in America continues to trend in a concerning direction. 20% of Americans reported suffering from a mental illness in 2019 and 2020, making for roughly 50 million patients. Rates of anxiety and depression are at an all-time high. While researchers work to identify the mechanisms behind the increase in mental illness, increasing numbers of patients seek treatment from a limited number of qualified mental health professionals.

How is the mental health world handling the surge of new patients? Well, by all accounts, it’s not going well. There is a severe shortage of trained and licensed psychiatrists to meet the growing demand.

Research suggests that the mental health field will be short at least 14,000 mental health professionals within the next few years. Leaders in the field are working to increase the number of residency slots to help resolve this issue, but there are currently not enough avenues to make up for the shortage.

Unfortunately, this means psychologists already working in the field must streamline their therapy practice to accommodate more patients. The nature of psychiatry makes this problematic. An hour-long therapy session is an hour long. There’s no way of getting around that. While telehealth offers a means to serve patients that don’t require long-form weekly sessions, mental health EHR systems can also benefit psychiatry practices.

What is an EHR System?

An electronic health records system, or EHR system, is software that collects and stores patient health records in a centralized system. Most EHR systems have a core set of features that are extendable with various integrations or optional modules. Comprehensive patient health records greatly benefit patients and improve the quality of care, whereas optional modules offer support for essential practice functions like scheduling, insurance verification, and billing.

Centralized Data Storage

Other industries have welcomed the transition to a data-centric world, while patient care is falling behind. But when patient health and wellness are at risk, accurately and thoroughly collecting patient health data is critical. A complete medical record helps psychiatrists make well-informed treatment decisions based on patient medical history, prescription history, vitals, and appointment summaries.

Patient records, including visit summaries, treatment plans, prescription history, and appointment history, are centrally stored within EHR software. There’s no need to sort through multiple data sources to find necessary patient information. Mental health providers can also easily collect and add new patient information after each appointment.

Scheduling Assistance

As increasing numbers of Americans seek treatment for their mental health, providers all over the country are struggling to keep up with the demand. Patients often wait weeks or months to be seen in underserved areas. Any improvements to the scheduling process can make a significant impact on the number of patients a practice can support. EHR software can simplify scheduling and onboarding new patients, while helping staff quickly fill unexpected appointment openings.

Terminology Service

The ICD-10, or International Classification of Diseases, is used in a modified form in the United States, known as ICD-10-CM. Hospitals and healthcare providers use this bank of 72,748 (2022) codes to classify all diseases and conditions encountered during patient care. SNOMED CT is an even more comprehensive collection of medical terminology that is multilingual and international.

EHR systems that include a terminology service offer a seamless lookup experience for providers and medical coders. This service eliminates the need for third-party sources and helps providers quickly identify codes when charting. Psychiatrists can access information on treatment protocols and medications with ease.

Streamlined Insurance Verification and Authorizations

Insurance verification and prior authorizations place a burden on mental healthcare practices. The majority of practices within the mental health field are small, with less than five practitioners and minimal staff. In recent years, insurance companies have been ramping up the number of treatments that need PAs. According to an AMA web-based survey, 90% of physicians have experienced a marked increase in the human resources and time required to handle authorizations.

EHR software with the appropriate modules can reduce the workload of overworked staffers by providing a centralized platform to handle insurance verification, claim remittance, claim status, and patient EOBs.

Integrated Billing

Mental health practices can more efficiently and effectively capture revenue for rendered patient services by using EHR software with integrated billing. There’s very little wealth in mental health, so doctors need to maximize reimbursement to cover operating costs, staff salaries, and malpractice insurance. When staff can easily access reports, audits, and other billing details, they can help turn the tide of declining reimbursements and low margins.

Tracking Patient Progress

When patients visit healthcare providers with mental health concerns, they seek relief and management of their symptoms. Mental illness can have crippling effects on patients’ quality of life. But when dealing with mental health, the path to wellness is rarely as simple as taking a course of antibiotics. Patients may need months or years of therapy, working closely with a psychiatrist to develop effective coping mechanisms and discover the appropriate therapeutic medication and doses.

An EHR system aids psychiatrists in tracking patient progress over extended periods of time. Practitioners can refer to appointment notes and other patient records to gauge how far the patient has come and what areas still need improvement. They can utilize this information to develop future treatment plans.


Psychiatrists can securely generate and transmit prescriptions to patient pharmacies through an EHR system that supports digital prescriptions. E-prescribing is far more convenient than handwriting a prescription or having staff call it into the pharmacy. The system can also catch and flag potential adverse medication reactions and conflicts with known patient allergies.

Leveraging EHR Systems for Good

Electronic health records help mental healthcare providers build better systems of care. By leveraging the capabilities of EHR software, therapy practices can streamline scheduling and prescriptions, efficiently handle billing and insurance, and collect a centralized patient record for long-term tracking of patient progress. With these capabilities, dedicated providers can better serve the rising need for mental health services within their communities.