Mental health is an essential part of overall healthcare. Unfortunately, the prevalence and impact of mental health conditions are significant. In the U.S., for example, the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health indicates that 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition, but over 50 percent of American adults with mental illness did not receive treatment in 2016. Untreated mental illness costs approximately $100 billion in lost productivity per year in the U.S.
The lack of supply vs. the demand means that patients encounter long wait times for initial consults – whether they are in the Emergency Department (ED) or not – and extended wait times between appointments for follow-up care. The US Health Resources & Services Administration estimates an additional 70,000 providers are needed by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand.
Patients can benefit from providers using telehealth to enable early identification and intervention for those at risk and to facilitate ongoing care and support for those suffering from mental illnesses and conditions. Telehealth can help enable essential provider-to-provider communications and improve patient outcomes by improving access to timely, expert, and follow-up care.
- Access to Timely Care: Our proprietary research has found that ED patients may have to wait up to 7 hours (or incur a 3-day length of stay over the weekend) for a mental health consult. Mental health specialists are not always on-staff – and not always available round-the-clock. With telehealth, ED providers can access offsite/remote mental health specialists for a virtual consult, effectively reducing the ED patient’s wait to be evaluated for a discharge or transfer to only 30 minutes.
- Access to Expert Care: Healthcare organizations may have generalist mental health professionals on staff, but realize their staffing resources may fail patients needing specific expertise. With telehealth, mental health professionals can access a broader network of more specialized colleagues, effectively providing a patient with the right person who can make the right decision, at the righttime, regarding diagnosis and treatment.
- Access to Follow-up Care: Discharged patients are at risk for readmission if healthcare providers do not routinely re-engage patients in order to re-emphasize the treatment plan. With telehealth, mental health professionals can be available to the patient, on-demand, and at-home, effectively supporting adherence in a convenient, cost-effective, and comfortable way. Patients’ time and expenses related to travel to follow-up appointments can be reduced. Care coordination amongst the patient’s broader team (including a pharmacist) can be more efficient as needed resources can quickly be integrated into a video call – with or without the patient – in order to discuss medication reconciliation issues and future treatment plans.
The delivery of mental health care continues to improve with the advent of telehealth, driving better outcomes and improved satisfaction for patients, health professionals, and healthcare organizations. Removing the geographic barrier between patients, providers, mental health specialists, and mental health experts will enable more patients to access the care needed, anytime and anywhere.