Finding high-quality mental health care is a challenge, no matter a patient’s location or circumstances, writes Avizia CEO Mike Baird. But “with the explosive growth of tele-behavioral health over the last few years, it is considerably less challenging.” Changes in the regulatory environment have also factored into the growth of telemedicine, behavioral or otherwise.
While tele-behavioral health can improve access for patients in rural areas, Baird writes that its biggest potential is in acute care. “Tele-behavioral health can dramatically improve access to psychiatric care in the emergency department, avoid unnecessary transfers and readmissions, reduce patient wait times, and even minimize symptoms of physician burnout,” Baird writes.
An estimated one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness, and when their illness becomes acute, most of those individuals show up at the emergency room for crisis intervention. Those individuals often find themselves being in the ED for more than 24 hours while waiting for a bed at an inpatient behavioral health facility, partly because it can take many hours for qualified staff to address mental health crises.
Tele-behavioral health can offer relief for this problem and elevate care for patients in a behavioral health crisis or who have substance abuse disorders, but the maximum benefit can only be achieved if the telehealth platform a hospital uses is interoperable with its electronic health records and other technologies.
“Incorporating tele-behavioral health into acute care environments can immediately—and meaningfully—improve patient outcomes, reduce hospital readmissions, and ultimately change the lives of patients and their loved ones,” Baird writes. Getting patients quickly in touch with appropriate mental health professionals can improve their overall health and ensure that emergency departments aren’t slowed down in their work to save patients’ lives, whether those patients are suffering a physical or mental health crisis.