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Four Reasons to Consider Telepsychiatry for Your Clinic

Alex Bachert, MPH June 21, 2018

4 Reasons Telepsychiatry Can Help Your Community

Community mental health centers, federally qualified health centers, and other organizations that work with the underserved face a unique set of challenges. Limited budgets, lengthy patient wait times, and a shortage of providers are just a few of the barriers that often prevent clinics from providing patients with the mental and behavioral health care they need.

And while legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has been instrumental in expanding eligibility for mental health coverage, the simple truth is that underserved areas don’t have equitable access to in-person care.

As a result, policymakers, payors, and health advocates have begun to explore telepsychiatry – which includes services like psychiatric evaluations, therapy, patient education, and medication management – as a means for delivering quality care to patients when they need it.

The past decade has seen a 45.1% annual increase in telemental health visits among rural patients with any mental illness — increasing from 2,365 in 2004 to 87,120 in 2014. Among all rural Medicare beneficiaries with a mental illness, the number of telemental health visits per 100 beneficiaries increased from 0.2 to 5.3, found a Health Affairs report.

If you’re seeking better solutions for providing mental and behavioral care for your community, here are four reasons to consider telepsychiatry.

Improved Access to Care

Telepsychiatry enables clinics to treat patients in rural, urban, and suburban areas who may not otherwise have access to traditional in-person clinic visits.

Research suggests that more than 60% of counties in the continental U.S. are facing a deficit of psychiatrists to treat residents with mental illness. This translates to roughly 111 million people living in areas with a shortage of local providers, drastically reducing their odds of receiving care, reported the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Community behavioral health organizations and FQHCs in rural counties, in particular, have just under 600 psychiatrists registered to serve more than 27 million Americans.

According to most states’ telepsychiatry regulations, providers can reside anywhere in the U.S. given that they are licensed to practice in the state where the clinic exists – broadening the provider applicant pool beyond a clinic’s zip code.

Telepsychiatry is also beneficial for overcoming cultural and societal barriers to care that are often concurrent with Latino and immigrant populations, patients who speak various languages, and patients with social anxiety disorders.

Strong Care Coordination

When it comes to evaluating, diagnosing, and treating patients, telepsychiatry providers adhere to the same professional standards as in their in-person practice.

Providers are still expected to abide by clinic policies, complete proper electronic health record documentation, and participate in care team huddles — they just do so with the help of video technology.

“Medical staff using telemedicine can perform every function that a ‘in person’ staff member can,” stated Bill Rider, CEO of the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester, at the 2018 Open Minds conference in Orlando, Florida. “When executed in concordance with American Psychological Association and American Telemedicine Association guidelines, (telepsychiatry) will greatly augment the long term recovery potential of our psychiatric treatment,” he continued.

In fact, telepsychiatry can actually strengthen a clinic’s care team. Remote providers tend to have flexible schedules, allowing clinics to see more patients without compromising on factors like appointment times, workflow, and documentation.

And with access to a larger network of providers, clinics are more likely to find like-minded, mission-driven providers to deliver an even stronger, more comprehensive care experience.

Patient Satisfaction and Engagement

No one is more familiar with the pain points of lengthy wait times than patients. The longer a patient waits to see a provider, the longer they are left to cope with their condition without professional support.

Telepsychiatry makes it easier for patients to not only receive care when they need it, but to have a satisfactory care experience. A systematic review of 31 studies found that in 75% of of cases, patients rated their experience with telepsychiatry services as “good” to “excellent,” with statistically higher satisfaction scores among rural patients compared with suburban patients.

Some patients may even feel more comfortable working with remote providers because there’s a lower likelihood that they’ll encounter their provider in their community.

“Young people prefer it (telepsychiatry), generalized anxiety disorder prefer it,” explained Mary Monnat, president of LifeWorks NW, a community mental health center in Portland, Oregon that serves 22,000 patients annually, at MHCA in Savannah, Georgia. “We have a transition to youth program, and they are very, very happy with it (telepsychiatry),” she said of her clinic’s experience.

Hear more from the MHCA conference panel:

MHCA Savannah Conference panel 2018

Easier access to care encourages patients to remain engaged in their mental and behavioral needs, preventing them from skipping doses or scheduled appointments. This is of particular importance among certain patient populations, including patients receiving medication assisted treatment (MAT) and the assertive community treatment (ACT) community.

Cost-Effective Care

Most clinics that work with low-income populations have two goals — to create financially sustainable programs and to provide timely care.

As clinics struggle to fit full-time, on-site providers into their staffing budgets, many are exploring the cost- effective hourly rates associated with remote providers. Reimbursement varies by states, but most telepsychiatry sessions are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, and commercial plans, and some states are even eligible for a Medicaid telemedicine bonus.

Telepsychiatry can increase a clinic’s ability to effectively support patient needs, while mitigating the need for more expensive care long term. It’s no secret that if a patient is able to schedule provider time next week, instead of in three months, they are less likely to miss their appointment or require more expensive interventions down the line.

Interested in how telepsychiatry could be supportive to your clinic needs? Contact Genoa Healthcare Telepsychiatry to learn more.