• Blog Post

Proving That Telepsychiatry Increases Access to and Frequency of Care

May 15th, 2019

By Samir Malik, Executive Vice President, General Manager, Genoa Healthcare Telepsychiatry

Over the past 10 years, telepsychiatry has grown from a novel idea used in academic and experimental settings to an increasingly mainstream way to provide psychiatric care.

Over 1 million appointments have been delivered nationwide, and the industry is growing by more than 20 percent a year.

With this growth, we’ve seen a shift in the narrative around the adoption of telepsychiatry from “if” telepsychiatry works, to “how” telepsychiatry works best.

The initial growth of telepsychiatry was marked with questions around efficacy: Is telepsychiatry as effective as in-person care? Does telepsychiatry work for crisis situations? For children and geriatric patients too? In response, numerous studies have been published over the last ten years showing that telepsychiatry is effective in a variety of settings across a range of patient needs.

We are now seeing a national conversation that no longer asks “if” telepsychiatry is effective, but whether it can improve access to care and deliver better outcomes. The questions we’re hearing are: Will telepsychiatry reduce the burden of illness to patients? Are patients getting better with this treatment? Will telepsychiatry’s growth result in lower costs of care for patients?

This is especially important given the huge shortage of psychiatric resources and the increasing demand for mental health care across the country. According to a report by the National Council on Behavioral Health, 77 percent of counties in the U.S. are underserved and 55 percent of states have a “serious shortage” of child and adolescent psychiatry.

In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notes that about 45 percent of patients with serious and persistent mental illness go untreated.

For too long, telepsychiatry has only been looked at with a lens found in more hidden corners of healthcare — think tanks, academic centers and leading provider and payer organizations.

Mental health professionals and policy makers alike have hypothesized for years that telepsychiatry can meaningfully impact patient outcomes and build a better behavioral health ecosystem.

Now, we’re excited to have data that supports this hypothesis. We recently released the results of a peer-reviewed study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Rural Mental Health, finding that offering telepsychiatry and in-person appointments reduced wait times for Medicaid patients by seven days.

In addition, offering telepsychiatry and in-person appointments together increased the likelihood of monthly appointments by 34 percent.

The ability to use telepsychiatry to offer more timely and frequent care has important implications for effectively treating individuals with severe mental health conditions. According to the same National Council on Behavioral Health report referenced earlier, “Extended times between appointments can lead to non-adherence to medications and incomplete symptom management, which often leads to more frequent visits to the emergency department and more hospitalizations.”

While more work will be needed to better understand how this improved access and engagement drives savings in treatment costs, improves clinical outcomes, etc., it’s clear that telepsychiatry can improve outcomes for the underserved when applied the right way.

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