The Growth Channel

How 22 behavioral health staff can serve an entire market

by Tracy Walsh

Ensuring adequate access to behavioral health services is one of the most pressing challenges population health managers confront today. There are several common barriers to providing reliable behavioral health diagnosis and subsequent treatment, including specialist shortages, cultural barriers in the patient community, and inconsistent or low levels of reimbursement.

Telehealth is most commonly adopted in either the primary care setting to improve behavioral health coordination with PCPs, or in the inpatient setting to offer on-demand psychiatric consultations for patients presenting in crisis.

Essentia Health, an integrated health system based in Duluth, Minn., began exploring telebehavioral health technologies to expand the reach of mental health providers in the emergency department.

Telehealth connects ED teams with reliable mental health expertise

Telehealth program goals

In 2013, Essentia Health created a 24/7 crisis center to connect social workers and clinicians in the emergency department with community behavioral health providers. The crisis center links the system’s critical access hospital and emergency room in Fosston with the Northwest Mental Health Center at Crookston.

Telebehavioral health services are staffed by 22 privileged and credentialed behavioral health professionals, including psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, licensed marriage and family therapists, and master’s prepared social workers. The crisis center typically responds to incoming requests within a one-hour time period. In terms of equipment investments, the crisis center relies on secure broadband networks for videoconferences during weekday business hours, and iPads and home laptops with hot spots to accommodate weekend and after-hours consult requests.

Essentia Health was awarded a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant in November last year to further expand their rural telemedicine services. Program administrators will apply this grant to bring the telebehavioral health pilot to scale at 70+ clinics, seven hospitals, and several nursing homes across three states.

"Now our patients will be able to see and speak directly with our specialists anywhere, anytime, no matter how far away they may be from each other."
—Maureen Ideker, RN, Director of Telehealth

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