Tag: Telemedicine

What Are On-Site Telepsychiatry Services?

Telepsychiatry Defined

Telepsychiatry is the use of telemedicine, or “remote medicine”, technology, to provide psychiatric assessment and treatment to patients.  When implemented properly, telepsychiatry services are indistinguishable from in-person care.   While there are some limitations to telepsychiatry depending on the U.S. state of operation – the ability to prescribe certain classes of medicine; reimbursement rates for CPT codes – the quality of care is always equivalent.

Recent Developments and Their Impacts

With over 5,000 mental health care Health Provider Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the United States, more clinics and hospitals have turned to telepsychiatry for solutions.  States like Texas are acknowledging the efficiency and reach of this technology by enacting parity laws – laws which guarantee equivalent reimbursement by private payers for services rendered through telehealth technology.  These laws are encouraging for physicians at the forefront of healthcare advancement, as they facilitate the low-risk methods that will be needed to address the growing demand for behavioral health services.

Improving Access to Care

For many clinics, telepsychiatry might be the only practical solution to treat patients needing behavioral health care.  As psychiatrists and other mental health professionals primarily practice within or close to major city limits, rural areas often rely on a single practitioner to treat hundreds, if not thousands, of potential patients.  Most general practitioners are not adequately equipped or specialized to serve those with mental ailments, and too often must refer their patients to emergency care.  Adding remote screenings, evaluations, and treatment to your current practice model would be useful in bridging this gap in care.

The Advantages for Your Clinic

As a fixture of your clinic, telepsychiatry is non-intrusive and cost-effective.  Depending on how you choose to finance your behavioral health services – whether by accepting commercial insurance; offering a sliding fee schedule; seeking external funding – you might be able to greatly increase your practice’s revenue.  Expanding your reach of care through behavioral health is also a good way to introduce new patients to your practice, and satisfy existing ones.

Getting Up and Running

Adding behavioral health services in your clinic comes with its own challenges: hiring the best-fit psychiatrist or counselor; understanding the billing and reimbursement structure; implementing a web portal and video client under HIPAA-compliance; and so on.  Thankfully, there are companies that will work with your clinic to operationalize the process (do the heavy-lifting).  Whether you are a physician, nurse, or practice manager, your priority is caring for your patients.  An external solution can help you focus on what you do best.

Understanding Senate Bill 10: Chapter 113: Texas Mental Health Care Consortium

On February 19, 2019, Texas laid the groundwork to comprehensively address its statewide mental health care shortage.  Senate Bill 10, passing with near unanimous consent, amended the Health and Safety Code to include “Chapter 113: Texas Mental Health Care Consortium”.  Said consortium, paneled by representatives from twelve health-related institutes of higher education, as well relevant non-profit organizations, has been tasked with strategizing solutions to the diminishing psychiatric workforce and broad challenges patients experience in accessing mental health care.

Improved Access to Care

In an effort to reduce mental health care shortage areas (M-HCSAs), Sec. 113.0152, Access to Care; Child Psychiatry Access Network and Telemedicine and Telehealth Programs directs the committee to create a statewide network of child psychiatry access centers (CPACs) within the twelve participating medical institutes.  These centers are to work alongside community care providers to offer psychiatric consultations to adolescents with behavioral and/or mental health disorders.  Per Sec. 113.0152, Mental Health Research Plan, the consortium is to compile and inventory available research on mental health and substance abuse disorders and delegate funding to further study in these areas.

An Expanded Physician Workforce

Sec. 113.0154, titled Psychiatry Expansion Workforce Project, aims to improve and increase psychiatric residency training via collaboration between medical colleges and community care providers.  Committee members have been permitted to fund one full-time psychiatric medical director and two rotating resident positions per provider.  Within the course of their duties, medical directors are expected to develop training opportunities for medical students and their residents.

Telemedicine’s Role

From a technology perspective, SB10 emphasizes the role of telemedicine in restructuring the state’s mental health care crisis: Sec. 113.0152.b instructs the consortium to create or redefine telehealth programs at the participating medical institutes to better recognize behavioral health needs and to supply statewide care; likewise, Sec. 113.0154.b.2 necessitates the application, education, and promotion of telehealth tools by directors employed through this project.

In her testimony at SB10’s hearing, developmental-behavioral pediatrician Nhung Tran, M.D., espoused support for the bill, noting that the establishment of CPACs and their application of tele-consultation services would “support primary care pediatricians in meeting the mental health needs of children” and “free up the behavioral health workforce to address higher-acuity concerns.”  Dr. Tran concluded her statement by acknowledging that while “telehealth and telemedicine are not the sole solution”, the bill “takes a critical step in leveraging technology to fill the gap … to create long-term solutions and improve care.”

Looking Towards the Future

Texas continues to have one of the largest discrepancies in mental health care access versus population of any U.S. state; however, SB10 is an informed, relevant, and dedicated approach to tackling these issues at their roots.  As this project grows, physicians, institutes, and telehealth services are certain to embrace its potential, hopefully reshaping the future of care for Texas patients.