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Creative Socio-Medics

Bringing caregivers up to speed.

Although it seems that health organizations would be among the first to be wired, many medical offices are still jam-packed with paper. Islip-based Creative Socio-Medics, the operating division of Netsmart Technologies, hopes to bring the healthcare industry into the 21st century. CEO Jerry Koop talks about behavioral health, HIPAA, and the wonder of automation.

How did the company get started?

We actually began in 1968, and gradually became a system vendor in the behavioral health sector. But, we’ve always been focused on that field. We have about 500 clients that use our suite of products, ranging from fairly small community-based providers to statewide networks. Since we’ve been in the industry for such a long time, we’ve been exposed to most of the service environments out there. In the last five years, automation began to become more broadly utilized in this sector. The industry recognized how powerful automation can be for behavioral health.

Has the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) changed the way you’ve done business?

It has definitely been an accelerator. The Act dictates that organizations have to ensure safeguards, that their legacy-based systems have to be in line, so it’s caused the need to replace and upgrade fairly archaic systems. It’s accelerated commitments of new automation to meet the requirements. It also broadens the technology to include a lot of biometric and security procedures that weren’t part of the landscape awhile ago.

How will the regulations affect health providers directly?

For example, one regulation has it that a caregiver can only look at the records for clients under his or her direct care. Even then, there has to be an audit trail of who looked at it, when they did, and why. This trail has to be associated with every access of a data record. Clearly, the only way that can be handled is electronically. The difficulty is that for the behavioral health sector to meet requirements like this one, you have to do more for less. Funding is continually being reduced, and HIPAA will present a challenge in terms of the way to do information control with less money.

Why do you think medical records should go electronic?

We are strong proponents for demonstrating that automating medical records is the only way that the industry can really meet this pressure to do more for less. I think that’s going to change the landscape dramatically for an industry with less automation than other industries. Now, with HIPAA, the reduction of funding, and security issues, automation has to move to the front line. Every caregiver has to have a sophisticated electronic information system just to be compliant. That’s really changing the entire landscape dramatically.

Why might behavioral health in particular be lagging behind in automating their systems?

As a sector, behavioral health is decades behind in terms of automation, even when compared with other areas of health care. It’s just the nature of these environments. In behavioral health, there has been a lack of standard best practices models, in terms of how a client’s information is handled. It’s much more of a touchy-feely industry. You assess a client and determine their needs in terms of the individual philosophy of the therapist as opposed to a standard protocol. It’s not like going in with appendicitis, where there is a very specific treatment process. If you go into community mental health, for example, there will be unlimited ways that a therapist will interpret your problem and describe what can be done. That’s changing now, though. There’s a movement toward known procedures, and there is a lot more standardization and accountability in the industry, and automation is part of all that.

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