Mental health informatics
Mental health informatics is a branch of health or clinical informatics concerned with the use of technology and information to improve mental health. It integrates the unique and needs and context of mental health with health informatics. Mental health itself is not limited to the treatment and prevention of mental illness but also includes promotion of mental health and quality of life. Like health informatics, mental health informatics is a multidisciplinary field that promotes care delivery, research, and education.[1,2]
Areas of focus specific to mental health include:
- Electronic health records (EHRs)
- Terminology and coding systems such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)
- Care planning, coordination, and delivery
- Telehealth, including Telemedicine
Need for mental health informatics
Why is there a need for a separate field for mental health informatics? Mental health conditions are often challenging to treat and result in significant medical costs. There are indirect costs to society, such as homelessness, lost productivity and government services. Individuals with mental health conditions experience social isolation, inability to work, disability, and premature death. Coordinating care across different services over time is a major challenge. Historically, mental health care, research, and education has been poorly funded and funded separately from care for physical conditions. There may be difficulty accessing mental health services, especially in rural locations.[1,2]
Mental health care involves a network of disparate organizations and services, including:[1,2]
- Outpatient health facilities
- Social service agencies
- Public health agencies
- Housing agencies and shelters
- Legal services
- Criminal justice system
- Non-profit organizations, including religious and community organizations
Mental health has unique ethical, social, and legal issues. There are major societal stigma associated with mental disorders, including substance use disorders. Individuals may avoid care because of societal perceptions. In addition to protections to health information in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and ARRA, there are increased national and state regulations that protecting the privacy and confidentiality of records of mental health care. Individuals with mental health conditions unable to care for or make decisions for themselves. There are special regulatory and legal requirements for protecting and caring for these vulnerable individuals.[1,2]
Residents of many rural communities do not have access to mental health services and are referred to as Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas (MPHSAs). The U.S. government has identified a critical shortage of mental health professionals, especially in rural areas. Also, rural residents hesitate to seek mental health services because of the stigma of mental illness and issues with privacy and confidentiality in small communities. Patients may be friends or acquaintances of office staff who handle records and have access to notes and diagnosis codes. Patients also have concerns with sharing with professionals that they know in other roles. Telemental health is one approach to addressing this shortage and helping mental health professionals in cities connect with patients in isolated areas. Issues with this approach privacy with with electronic communications and licensing, certification, and regulations across state and national boundaries.
World populations are aging and care is shifting from institutions to families while families have fewer children, resulting in fewer caregivers for elderly individuals with chronic illnesses and disabilities. There is a societal emphasis on "aging in place" at home and away from nursing homes. Telehealth technologies, such as home monitoring and communication devices, can help elderly and disabled individuals communicate with families and health providers and maintain their independence as long as possible.
By applying informatics principles to mental health, mental health informatics can promote better outcomes research, improve the efficiency of use of health and societal resources, and improve individual and societal well-being.
- Hanson A, Levin BL. Mental health informatics. New York: Oxford University Press; 2013
- Rigby M, Lindmark J, Furlan PM. The importance of developing an informatics framework for mental health. Health Policy 1998;45(1):57-67.
Submitted by Amy Wang