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

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

The High Cost of Psychiatric Misdiagnoses

By Amy Levitt

A relatively recent European study documented the high cost of psychiatric misdiagnoses in emergency departments (EDs). What it found: misdiagnosed panic attacks were costing hospitals a small fortune.

Because they’re not psychiatric specialists, ED physicians often were baffled by patients’ symptoms, unable to tell if they were having bad reactions to illicit drugs or having a problem requiring immediate psychiatric intervention. In many cases, on-call cardiologists and endocrinologists were summoned—and both time and money were lost.

The problem is arguably even worse in the U.S., where most psychiatric practices haven’t implemented electronic health record (EHR) systems. Remember that meaningful use incentives weren’t extended to behavioral healthcare in the original HITECH legislation; as a result, psychiatry lacks some of the financial incentive driving other specialties toward EHRs. Since there’s very little interoperability between most hospitals and nearby psychiatric practices, the case for telepsychiatry is a compelling one.

In the case of panic attacks, for instance, hospitals can waste precious hours and countless resources investigating a patient’s cardiac and glandular health. A wide cross-section of people experience these attacks, including celebrities like Johnny Depp, Barbra Streisand, and football Hall of Famer Earl Campbell. Yet most EDs don’t have rapid access to highly trained, board-certified psychiatrists who can quickly identify mental problems masquerading as physical ones.

For example, depression often appears to present as a sleep disorder—which means an ED patient could be sent home with medications that can deepen depression. With a telepsychiatrist as the ED’s first line of defense, these kinds of critical misdiagnoses can be prevented.

There are other advantages to on-call telepsychiatry as well. Beyond panic attacks and depression, an ED is often required to handle a myriad of psychiatric evaluations to address suicide attempts, substance abuse, physical abuse, mental illness, and psychiatric medication issues. Further complicating an ED’s ability to treat patients are the complexities of state psychiatric systems—often something in which an ED physician is not fully versed. A highly qualified telepsychiatrist can ensure complete compliance with state mental health regulations. Rapid response time is another huge plus. Many communities have a shortage of psychiatrists, especially those willing to be on-call throughout the night.

This can be especially problematic when a patient has been placed on a psychiatric hold. Without the proper assessment from a psychiatrist, the patient must remain in the hospital, but often times given the proper medical attention it becomes evident that the patient can be released early. The hospital can then free up a bed space and lessen overcrowding in the ED.

Sigmund Freud had a lifelong struggle with panic attacks. It’s fitting that the profession he launched can now accurately pinpoint the condition far better than most generalists in today’s emergency departments. And in the case of telepsychiatrists, far faster, too.

Topics: telepsychiatry, emergency departments, Uncategorized, psychiatric misdiagnoses, panic attacks