A study by a research team at Johns Hopkins University found that keeping a patient’s mental health records separate from that of their physical health in an electronic medical record in the name of privacy can actually hinder the care they receive. After surveying the psychiatric departments of 18 of the highest ranked hospitals by U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals of 2007, the team found that less than 25 percent of the hospitals gave non-psychiatric physicians full access to patients’ mental health EMR charts. Of those who allow non-psychiatric access to mental health records, patients were 40 percent less likely to be readmitted within a week of discharge, whereas the patients of hospitals who did not allow access were 27 percent less likely to be readmitted.
When hospitals choose to exclude mental health data in EMRs, it leaves a gap in information surrounding diagnoses and medications prescribed. This only keeps primary care physicians and other specialists in the dark about the patient’s overall condition. 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. The real danger of not sharing psychiatric medical records lies in drug interactions. Being uninformed about medications prescribed by a psychiatrist can cause the primary care physician to prescribe medications that create adverse reactions. For instance, when mixed with Klonopin for seizures, SSRIs can depress the central nervous system activity and respiration in patients.
As an indicator of poor quality of care, hospitals now receive financial penalties by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for patient readmissions. Physicians cannot provide patients with top notch holistic care if they remain uninformed on the patient’s whole condition. Hiding mental health information in electronic medical records only feeds the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness instead of treating it as one would any other illness.