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HHS to award $195 million for health IT use in opioid treatment

The Department of Health and Human Services will award $195 million to community health centers to expand substance abuse and mental health services that focus on awareness, prevention and opioid treatment in the U.S. The award will help health centers leverage health IT and training to support the expansion of mental health and substance abuse services, and integrate those services into primary care, according to an HHS release.

The funding will also increase the number of personnel for substance abuse and mental health services, according to an HHS release.

HHS Secretary Tom Price said integration is key to solving the challenges of mental illness and the opioid epidemic, and that the funding would help health centers across the country provide integration for mental health services to aid in opioid treatment.

One health IT tool that community health centers may utilize is the Behavioral Health Provider EHR Readiness Assessment Toolkit, which was developed specifically for substance use and mental health treatment. The toolkit can help health centers adopt certified health IT, as well as telehealth, social media, mobile technologies and other information technology. These technologies can be used to spread awareness or provide remote services to patients who may be dealing with behavioral health issues.

Health IT has the potential to have a positive impact on opioid treatment, other substance abuse care and mental health services, especially in rural or underserved areas where access to those services may be limited. However, it is important to balance health IT with actual providers because there are aspects of healthcare — especially behavioral and mental health — that still require a human touch.

Applications for HHS’ Access Increases for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services  award must be submitted by July 26, 2017, and funding is expected to be awarded in September.