Clinical Telemedicine Blog

Telepsychiatry, The Right Time But Not Yet In Enough Places

By Chris Pick

This week I was reading a January 2012 TRENDWATCH from the American Hospital Association entitled “Bringing Behavioral Health into the Care Continuum:  Opportunities to Improve, Costs and Outcomes.”  While I work with and around the problem every day it makes me pause whenever I see some of the numbers. 

….among children mental health conditions were the 4th most common reason for admission.

….27% of Americans will suffer from a substance abuse disorder in their lifetime.

….in 2009, more than 2 million discharges from community hospitals had a primary mental health diagnosis

….in the past year, 34 million adults had comorbid mental health and medical conditions

Here is what it means:

Patients with comorbid mental health and medical conditions experience higher healthcare costs, with much of it attributable to higher medical, not mental health, expenditures. Individuals with comorbid conditions are at a heightened risk of returning to the hospital after discharge. 

There is a critical shortage of behavioral healthcare treatment capacity. According to the report, 55% of US counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists, or social workers. Only 27% of community hospitals have an organized inpatient psychiatric unit, while state and county hospitals are closing to financial constraints.  Emergency department visits and resulting problems like boarding are on the rise.

With health care parity for mental health, healthcare technology advances, and public and government pressure to reform and recreate healthcare delivery, telepsychiatry is quickly becoming a solution. It allows the too small pool of psychiatrists, who are not evenly geographicly distributed, to meet the growing national mental health challenges.  We see the armed forces, the Veterans Administration, rural counties, managed care and many entities using telepsychiatry to reach no, low or special needs access areas.  Specialists in substance abuse, child psychiatry, mental retardation, and geriatrics can reach dispersed patient populations in need of a higher level of specialization. 

Increasingly we are seeing hospitals, who previously did not have or could not maintain sufficient on demand coverage,  identify and take advantage of the improved quality, cost, and outcomes that telepsychiatry offers.  The new questions become:

-What is the benefit to the care of the co-morbid patient when the hospitalist has a Psychiatrist to consult? 

-What is the benefit to the hospital that has no mental health services but has patients whose primary diagnosis is a mental health condition being brought to the Emergency Department and admitted to the hospital?

-What is the benefit of being able to diagnose, stabilize, manage, and direct to appropriate treatment the patient who is undiagnosed, untreated, or suffering from exacerbated mental health symptoms?

-What is the benefit when a child, elderly person, substance abuser comes to the hospital with an acute mental health problem and a specialist in that field is there to help?

-What is the savings when a psychiatrist is almost instantly available to determine capacity, treat emergent and urgent cases, and provide specialized recommendations?

Increasingly, as telepsychiatry is being used in the hospital setting, outcome studies all show that with early intervention, assessment, and treatment there is reduced cost of care, LOS, readmissions, staff burden and risk; and there is increased quality, services, and satisfaction. 

My work deals with the problems of how to address the mental health challenges that our hospitals and their communities are facing. Every day I show hospitals that telepsychiatry is a tool to decompress ED’s, provide needed specialty treatment, and reduce the costs hospitals bear while trying to meet the needs of the people they serve.  Can we afford not to address this growing problem?  There is still a ways to go in improving the national landscape for telepsychiatry (new prescribing laws and national licensing, reimbursement and medicare coverage, and so on…), but in your community the answer may already be here.

Topics: telemedicine, healthcare, Emergency Medicine, Physicians, telemedicine solutions, Specialists On Call, SOC, hospitals, telepsychiatry, emergency departments, emergency department, On Call Coverage, Telepresence, Specialty Physician Shortage, Patients, Emergency Psychiatry, telehealth, psychiatry

Teleneurology Provides Rapid Response from a Top Level Neurologist

By Jeff Simer

Two weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Society of Interventional Radiologist CLOTS training course in Dallas TX. The course is staged as a comprehensive five-day training course is composed of in-depth multidisciplinary lectures emphasizing the entire spectrum of stroke diagnosis and management.

The conference was centered around the minimally invasive approach to advanced ischemic stroke intervention and all of the management considerations, along with this, there was a full suite training course on the various techniques and medical device technology-from imaging to the catheter based solutions to intervention.

There were many presentations at the meeting, presenting many findings from some of the luminary interventional programs in the U.S. and Europe. 

Several presentations focused specifically on the overall process in which acute ischemic stroke is identified, triaged, processed, and managed on a systemic level.  This approach is generally considered a “Hub and Spoke” a model of developing a transfer pattern with in a defined geography where institutions that do not have in-house interventional capabilities can efficiently refer the appropriate cases to the “hub” for the advanced procedure that would not be able to be performed in-house at the originating site.  This model is particularly attractive to the interventional team as the number of in-house cases that present are generally not in sufficient numbers to fully support and justify the cost burden of a full swing interventional program. 

SOC attended this course in order to bring attention to one of the key issues that hinders these programs from realizing their growth potential-Acute Emergency Neurological consultation in the ED.  All interventional programs depend on the neurology staff of any given institution to identify candidates for both IV lytics, medical management, and in most cases, those that would benefit from advanced intervention in a bi-plane suite.  Many community level hospitals do not have 24/7/365 neurology to cover ED stroke call.  Even those that do, do not have the ability to respond to stroke codes within the “window” that stroke cases require to capture the opportunity for either lytics administration or intervention.  Hence the emphasis on how to create a network of hospitals that can feed an interventional practice.  This window is often lost due to the response times from the local specialists.  The lytics window is up to 4.5 hours for IV, and 8-12 for endovascular therapy.  The SOC specialists are guaranteed to respond in 15 minutes or less, thereby shortening the time that is lost waiting for a specialist to give an opinion on the case. 

Many Interventional programs lack the depth of call and expertise to provide such rapid response to neurological emergencies in the community setting.  With that said, many of the institutions that develop partnerships as “hub and spoke” lose momentum as the neurological consulting staff is not deep enough to provide 24/7/365 call coverage in a consistent and rapid fashion-burn out ensues and the network loses its effectiveness.  As a result, many of the partners lose confidence in calling for consultation and revert back to just sending all cases to the tertiary center.  This is neither good for the patient nor the receiving hospital, as the vast majority of cases are ones that can stay at the originating hospital and need not be transferred away from the community.  The receiving hospital is then using resources to manage patients that could have been kept at the partner site and not using the resources for advanced care. 

SOC had Dr. Heather Linn present on the history of SOC, the methods and value that having the availability of rapid response from a top level neurologist.  She articulated to the audience how 15 minute response time, along with the correct information has allowed SOC doctors to deliver more front line acute stroke care than any other neurological practice in the U.S.  Because SOC physicians are all fellowship trained and also well versed on the available interventional treatments available in most tertiary centers, SOC is uniquely able to assist both hubs and partner hospitals in tending to the extremely time sensitive nature of acute ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.  With that said, there was considerable interest from the interventional field in how SOC can partner in assisting the flow and triage of patients that are appropriate candidates for advanced neuroendovascular procedures.  The body of specialists I spoke to were blown away with the volume of cases that the SOC physician staff has responded to, on average over 10,000 a year.  Further, they were also impressed with the ability to appropriately manage and in many cases recommend treatment for these critically ill patients. 

I very much enjoyed the presentations I attended and want to thank everyone that stopped by the booth and asked questions or for more information.  It is clear that there is high value in utilizing the SOC solution as a key component in an advanced neuro-rapid response outreach program.  I look forward to seeing more partnerships with SOC as an integral part of advanced Neuroscience initiatives.

Topics: telemedicine, Stroke, neurology, teleneurology, emergency neurology, healthcare, Emergency Medicine, Neurologic Emergency, Physicians, Neurologic Emergencies, telemedicine solutions, Specialists On Call, SOC, hospitals, emergency departments, emergency department, On Call Coverage, Telepresence, Patients, telehealth, neurologists, telestroke, Efficiency, CLOTS, Society of Interventional Radiologist

Alabama Broadband & Telehealth Summit Recap

By Sam Klement

Last week I had the privilege of attending this 1st annual symposium which had over 225 people in attendance.  To say this inaugural event was a success would be a gross understatement! I personally spoke with folks from as far away as Texas and many other states including Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida and more. Dr. Stephen Suggs, Specialists On Call Teleneurologist, presented a very well received session that highlighted 5 Impacts of Telemedicine to Prattville Baptist Hospital (you can get the executive summary here.)

I was also able to attend other sessions including those by Ron Sparks, Senator Taylor, Dr. Carl Taylor, APT COO Dr. Jeffery Kesler, and Executive Director of Connecting Alabama Jessica Dent. There is a lot of commitment to bring the GPT model to Alabama and to get telehealth reimbursed for all payers. The overall messages resonated with SOC’s focus on patient care – connecting patients with the right doctor when they need it.

My goals for attending the conference were to learn everything I could about the APT initiative, hear from thought leaders in Alabama, and meet some of our SOC partners. I also wanted to let the other attendees know that SOC is the leader in telehealth and that we have a local representative. I feel like I accomplished it all!

Thanks to everyone that came by the SOC booth and especially to those that were singing the SOC praises loud and proud! I look forward to attending again next year!

Topics: telemedicine, teleneurology, telepsychiatry, telehealth, Alabama Broadband & Telehealth Summit, GPT