This piece was written by Holli Stayton, nurse practitioner for Inpathy, InSight’s direct-to-consumer division. Originally published on American Journal of Managed Care

As summer draws to a close, parents naturally begin to consider back-to-school preparations such as well-checks with primary care providers and immunizations. As part of a holistic back-to-school wellness plan, it’s also important for parents to proactively monitor a child’s behavioral health and consider a mental health checkup in addition to a physical checkup.

The reality is that emotional wellness can take a downward turn as the start of school approaches. Reminders of school-related pressures are visible as early as midsummer as parents and children are exposed to an array of back-to-school advertising and school-related communication. These activities can cultivate anxieties and tensions well before the start of the new academic year, and it is not uncommon for demand of behavioral health services to soar near the end of the summer as parents identify concerning behaviors and begin back-to-school preparations.

Amid severe provider shortages, this increased need can create notable supply and demand challenges. Direct-to-consumer (D2C) telepsychiatry has emerged as an advantageous alternative that parents and children appreciate and value. A study in the Telemedicine Journal and e-Health even determined that telepsychiatry may be better than in-person care for younger age groups “because of the novelty of the interaction, direction of the technology, the psychological and physical distance, and the authenticity of the family interaction.”

The Behavioral Health Access Challenge for Children
Consider this all-too-common back-to-school scenario:

A child suffering from undiagnosed depression becomes agitated about the start of school in mid-July. As the weeks progress, parents begin noticing the child has become more withdrawn and is sleeping more. In August, the child becomes combative, lashing out at family members and responding to conflict in irrational ways.

The parents determine it is time to seek a psychiatric consult. Yet, when the attempt to schedule an appointment is made, they find out the child will have to wait 2 months for an appointment. During this time, symptoms continue to exacerbate, and the parents are left with few options.

Unprecedented demand exists for child and adolescent psychiatric services. The CDC has found nearly 1 in 7 children between the ages of 2 and 8 has a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. The statistics for preteens and teens aged 9 to 17 is higher—as many as 1 in 5.

Unfortunately, severe provider shortages, especially for child and adolescent specialty areas, are working against this heightened need. Currently, all states lack an adequate supply of child psychiatrists, and severe shortages exist in 43 states, according to the CDC. Some rural areas lack a single psychiatrist, and many behavioral health issues in children go undiagnosed or underserved.

For children who have a behavioral health diagnosis, it is important to schedule routine check-ins as part of a proactive approach to managing the disorder. Unfortunately, provider shortages make routine check-ins more difficult, and frustrated parents often let scheduling fall behind or give up. This often results in further disruptions in a child’s life and can require more costly interventions.

Fortunately, there is a better way.

The Telepsychiatry Advantage 
D2C telepsychiatry is quickly becoming a fundamental part of the solution to improve behavioral health access for children and adolescents, both at home and in schools. Powered by videoconferencing technology, these models are readily embraced by younger patients because they have grown up communicating via video and mobile devices.

Telepsychiatry not only helps normalize mental and behavioral health care with the use of technology, but it also helps breakdown barriers to establishing rapport with children because it gives them a greater sense of control. Interactions with behavioral health professionals can occur from the comfort of home or in a familiar, private setting where they feel safe.

In addition, the privacy afforded by these models helps alleviate concerns of running into peers in a waiting room or outside a facility and allows children and adolescents to learn to cope with whatever challenges are at hand in a comfortable setting.

Most notably, telepsychiatry opens doors to greater access while also providing a convenient means of scheduling appointments. In an academic setting, for example, staff can connect students with timely and proactive care directly on campus during times that align with their schedules. One alternative school in Pennsylvania, The Lincoln Center, has experienced success with its on-campus telepsychiatry program, which provides mental and behavioral health services to students who need such care on a regular, ongoing basis.

Because telepsychiatry providers are available for sessions outside of traditional office hours, parents can avoid missing work, and children do not have to miss school or sit in a waiting room—key advantages to ensuring added stressors are not placed on this age group while they are receiving help. Instead of waiting several months to see a behavioral health professional, children can typically schedule an appointment in less than 2 weeks—and at a convenient time.

In 1 instance, a student was at risk of getting expelled from school due to intensifying behavior issues in the classroom. The child’s mother faced significant struggles finding behavioral health support and medication management services. The telepsychiatry option was introduced and quickly embraced by both the parent and child, and now he is stabilized and thriving in the both his home and school environments.

Today, children and adolescents face unprecedented challenges and pressures. It’s important that parents proactively track not only a child’s physical well-being, but also his or her mental and emotional well-being. Back-to-school planning is an optimal time to consider a behavioral health check-in, and families and schools are increasingly turning to telepsychiatry as a viable and advantageous approach to better care.

By: Barry Doan

Original article published on Benefits Pro 

The value of an employer’s health benefit strategy is intrinsically linked to its ability to address an employee’s total health—both physical and mental. That’s why overall wellness trends are shifting to better acknowledge the strong connection between a robust behavioral health care benefit and better overall health, ultimately resulting in improved employee productivity.

While many wellness programs today incorporate tactics that promote positive behavioral lifestyle changes, they often fall short of systematically addressing behavioral health conditions that can hinder an employee’s willingness and ability to embrace those needed changes. Altering entrenched behavioral health lifestyle patterns can be difficult, even if it’s a change that would be beneficial for the member. For instance, diabetic employees are much less likely to engage in diet and exercise programs when they are struggling with active depression that robs them of energy, focus and motivation. These members often represent a substantial percentage of those with chronic health conditions who make up a disproportional share of total healthcare expenditures.

This reality is why many companies are setting their sights on comprehensive employee “well-being” as opposed to “wellness” alone. By prioritizing access to both physical and behavioral health care, employers set the stage for more systemic and long-lasting engagement in self-care—and ultimately improve employee well-being, productivity and the bottom line. It’s important to note, however, that while many companies have invested heavily in identifying high-risk, high-cost employees and programs to engage these employees, access to care is still a major obstacle to this change process.

As part of this shift, many employers are incorporating telemedicine options into health benefit packages as a viable solution for addressing access issues related to traditional in-office care. Telepsychiatry is emerging as a growing opportunity within this movement as an effective means of overcoming common barriers to behavioral health utilization such as stigma, busy lifestyles and poor coordination of services. These models help attract busy and reluctant employees who might otherwise procrastinate getting the help they need.

As a clinical model that leverages videoconferencing technology, telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health are used for evaluations, consultations and ongoing treatment. Employees access this care through live, interactive communication with a licensed psychiatry or behavioral health provider in a private setting. This improved access allows employees to not only address their behavioral health concerns before issues become more acute and costly, but also to reduce the behavioral health impairment that interferes with their ability and desire to engage in employer wellness programs.

The behavioral health challenge

The statistics speak for themselves. Behavioral health issues were the leading cause of disability in 2015, accounting for one-third of new claims.

Depression, for instance, ranks high as an employer health challenge, racking up an estimated $210.5 billion per year — nearly half of which is attributed to workplace absenteeism and productivity losses. In fact, one study points to employer costs as high as $3,386 per individual over a two-year period prior to an employee’s depression diagnosis.

Behavioral health issues often impact the effectiveness of wellness programs directed at physical conditions due to existing co-morbidities. One study found that 45 percent of breast cancer patients also had a psychiatric disorder.

While these statistics may be startling, the good news is that companies can achieve notable return on investment in wellness and complex condition management programs by investing in mental health treatment. In one study, researchers found that for every dollar spent treating depression, $1.55 was spent on the effects of depression in the workplace.

It’s not always easy to quantify the impact of behavioral health treatment, but human resource managers overwhelmingly agree that a healthy, well balanced employee is a better teammate and more productive worker. Often, the problem is getting employees to utilize the behavioral health benefits that are already available to them.

Consider a common example: A company launches an active lifestyle program that includes tracking daily physical activity as one means of supporting the employee’s goals of improving her health. A single mom in the workforce, who already struggles with mild depression and anxiety, finds it difficult to rise to the challenge of addressing her wellness goals. Feelings of guilt and inadequacy over this “failure” exacerbate her behavioral health conditions, ultimately decreasing her physical activity and lowering her overall health scores. Unfortunately, the wellness coach does not recognize the behavioral health condition that is impairing participation and fails to make an appropriate referral for additional professional support. The employee becomes demoralized, feels even worse and drops out of the program, and an opportunity is lost.

Even when the employee recognizes the underlying behavioral health condition that is compromising her health and happiness, she may have challenges taking the desired action to address it. While an existing behavioral health benefit would cover the employee’s treatment, she still must do the following research:

  • Identify what is wrong and what type of provider she needs to find
  • Determine what her benefits cover
  • Find which providers can she see that are covered
  • Schedule her appointment
  • Manage the logistics of attending the appointment which may include taking time off and arranging child care and transportation

Taking hold of the telepsychiatry opportunity

Offering telepsychiatry and other behavioral health care services as part of employee benefits is a trend on the rise, and for good reason

When employees can access psychiatrists and therapists from the comfort of their home or another private space, the behavioral health stigmas are reduced, and individuals are more apt to follow through with care plans. Privacy and confidentiality are also stronger with telepsychiatry because online sessions eliminate the potential of individuals seeing someone they know in a waiting room. Many patients also report greater comfort addressing difficult issues while in familiar surroundings.

Additionally, telepsychiatry expands scheduling options and provider choice, opening the door to greater access. Work and family schedules, for instance, can limit the ability of employees to access traditional services provided in an office setting. Through telepsychiatry, employees can schedule appointments in evenings or on weekends in addition to traditional weekday time slots, which reduces absenteeism or tardiness from work.

The reality is that patient satisfaction trends are higher with online psychotherapy as opposed to traditional face-to-face treatment. While telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health are not for every person, this approach to care addresses many of the common barriers to receiving prompt, professional behavioral health treatment that sets the stage for greater overall health and wellbeing.

Employers seeking to achieve the greatest return on health plan investment are wise to consider telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health as means for promoting use of behavioral health benefits. This effective model of care provides the needed framework for improving access to appropriate healthcare resources and empowering employees to take more control of their health.

By: Geoffrey Boyce

Originally published on Behavioral Healthcare Executive

In the world of telehealth, what a difference a few years can make. The industry has moved from burgeoning to mainstream and is seen as a viable model for behavioral healthcare. In fact, industry professional shortages are catapulting adoption and use of telepsychiatry to address unmet psychiatric needs in all states.

The field of telepsychiatry has much to celebrate in recent years, and the outlook ahead is brighter than ever. Here are five top predictions about where telepsychiatry is headed in 2018.

Growth of direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry

Consumerism is taking healthcare by storm as individuals demand greater access, convenience and empowerment in their care choices. It’s why the American Telemedicine Association recently named uptake of consumer-driven technology as one of the top five trends for the telemedicine market in 2018.

Thus, it’s understandable why the “anywhere, anytime” access of telepsychiatry continues to drive growth of direct-to-consumer models. As individuals embrace the ability to access care at home or other comfortable locations where a reliable Internet connection exists, continued evolution of this trend is expected.

Consumers will increasingly recognize the advantages of heightened availability that enables scheduling of sessions outside of traditional office hours. Many increasingly find that video-conferencing models tear down communication barriers and reduce stigma—a key factor that otherwise keeps many from seeking behavioral health treatment. Additionally, individuals can look outside of local referral networks to access services, expanding provider options and consumer choice.

Increased access through policy/legislation and coverage

Perhaps there is no greater confirmation of telemedicine’s positive impact on care delivery than recent policy and legislation developments. The clear majority of states have enacted or proposed some form of parity regarding insurance coverage of telemedicine.

This activity will likely continue as demand for greater access to behavioral health services soars and stakeholders recognize the benefits of telepsychiatry models.

Additionally, in efforts to address the growing opioid epidemic, President Donald Trump earlier this year declared a public health emergency, calling for expanded telehealth access for Americans in need of care. Telehealth is a valuable solution to help improve care and the overall outlook around this significant public health crisis. To ensure that the addiction and mental healthcare disciplines continue to advance and embrace telehealth, and in turn, increase access to much needed services surrounding this crisis, it will be important for states to closely monitor and enact legislation that considers all types of telehealth. For example, language written to curb the prescribing of schedule II drugs via telehealth might extend to the best-practice prescribing of medication for children with ADHD via telepsychiatry, causing unintended limitations.

Positioning for value-based care

The premise of value-based care is higher quality, better outcomes and lower costs. Industry stakeholders increasingly recognize that care delivery must address the whole health of individuals—both physical and behavioral—to achieve sustainable “value.” Individuals are best engaged in their care plans and overall wellness when behavioral health is addressed in tandem with physical illness.

As providers and employers embrace this reality, they are finding that telepsychiatry effectively addresses fragmentation that often exists across the behavioral health continuum. Timely access to behavioral health services—whether emergent or ongoing—improves continuity of care and mitigates the need for higher cost interventions. Especially in multifaceted cases with complex pharmacology, video consultations improve access to multi-disciplinary treatment teams and direct telepsychiatry interventions to improve monitoring and provide ongoing patient engagement.

Increased adoption of connected community models

In synch with positioning for value-based care, healthcare communities will continue to see growth of connected community models in 2018. This will be especially evident in progressive communities that recognize the need for a comprehensive, sustainable and multifaceted behavioral health strategy that increases access to care across the continuum.

For instance, communities will continue to realize notable gains in the coming year by integrating telepsychiatry across multiple settings including:

  • Emergency departments (EDs): ED physicians often lack the psychiatric resources needed for timely evaluations of critical-need patients. Telepsychiatry helps by speeding up access and ensuring quick triage to the most appropriate level of care.
  • Primary care: More than half of all psychiatric drugs today are prescribed by non-psychiatrists due to provider shortages. Telepsychiatrists can provide attractive referral options or a consultative partnership to primary care providers.
  • Community-based care settings: Mental health clinics and other community-based organizations often struggle to retain and recruit local psychiatrists. Telepsychiatry brings long-term access to psychiatry providers who are the best fit for an organization’s needs.
  • Inpatient units or residential program: Inpatient units or residential programs benefit from additional psychiatric support to make sure a unit has 24/7 coverage and consultative support.
  • Medical/surgical floors of hospitals: Medical floors of hospitals often need psychiatric consultations or evaluations to ensure providers are fully treating the patient’s comprehensive health.
  • Discharge planning: Telepsychiatry ensures timely continuation of services for discharge planners in need of referral options, where waiting lists in some clinics can reach upwards of 10 weeks.

New settings embracing telepsychiatry

The industry is also witnessing significant uptake and use of telepsychiatry in areas outside of the healthcare setting as community organizations recognize the advantages. A few examples of new settings include:

  • Community agencies and correctional facilities: These organizations are increasingly engaging with telepsychiatrists to improve access to psychiatric evaluation and treatment.
  • Crisis response teams: mobile mental health crisis teams are leveraged to assist individuals in need, offer assessment and decide the best course of action. By bringing telepsychiatrists with them virtually with a tablet or mobile device, the situation can be assessed and managed in real time.
  • Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams: Designed as an intensive and highly-integrated approach, ACT teams support better transitions from hospital environments for individuals who are re-entering the community. Telepsychiatrists can attend home visits along with case managers virtually with a tablet or mobile device.
  • Schools and universities: Young people need convenient, timely access to mental health services, often requiring specialty providers that are difficult to find. Telepsychiatry is a great solution for meeting students where they are with the right resources.

Looking ahead, the opportunities for leveraging telepsychiatry in new settings are endless as communities creatively address behavioral health needs. The telemedicine industry has come a long way in just a few years, and great momentum exists going in to 2018.

By Jeanine Miles, LPC

Original article posted on NAMI

Unprecedented need exists for child and adolescent mental health services in today’s communities, however, parents have limited options at their disposal. Shortages of child psychologists and psychiatrists are leaving our most vulnerable populations without care. Currently, all U.S. states are facing high or severe shortages, with many communities lacking even one qualified child and adolescent psychiatrist.

We need an effective solution, and it might be telebehavioral health. This convenient, accessible model of care has been gaining traction: Studies consistently reveal high satisfaction rates for children, adolescents and parents, often reaching above 90%. In fact, a 2013 studydetermined that telebehavioral health might be better than in-person care for children and adolescents because this age group often expresses an unwillingness or reluctance to participate in traditional therapy sessions.

Telebehavioral health might be a natural solution for improving access to care, but that’s just one benefit. As a counselor who offers telesessions, I’ve seen many more. Consider the following:

Comfortable Surroundings

Clinical office settings often intimidate children and adolescents. I find that younger populations are more willing to open up when they are in their own environment surrounded by familiar possessions or in reach of pets who may offer comfort. With telebehavioral health, I also get clues and information from a home environment I never see in an office setting.

For example, one child was well-behaved during our traditional office appointments. Yet her mother described a very different child with erratic behaviors while at home. Through our telebehavioral health sessions, I could see family interactions that confirmed the mother’s assessment. I was then able to teach the young girl and her family healthy coping techniques right there “at home.”

Familiar Modes Of Communication

Younger generations have grown up with technology. In fact, a 2015 study shows 67% of teens own a smartphone and spend more than four hours daily engaged with it. Videoconferencing, therefore, is a natural fit for today’s youth. Many teens prefer telesessions compared to traditional office sessions because it’s familiar and helps build trust. Simply put: Today’s youth are more comfortable communicating through a screen.

Easier Scheduling

One of the greatest barriers to engaging younger populations in mental health treatment is stigma. Many adolescents fear their peers will find out they go to therapy and ask questions. Professional shortages and scheduling challenges often causes students to miss school to attend therapy sessions. When a student leaves school early or checks in late, their peers may ask questions or make them feel uncomfortable.

With telebehavioral health, scheduling becomes much easier, as sessions can take place outside of traditional office hours. Patients do not have to miss school, nor do they run the risk of running into someone they know in a waiting room.

When choosing a telebehavioral health care organization or provider for your child, it’s important to do research before pursuing treatment. Things to consider are whether or not they are HIPAA-compliant, if they offer technical or care navigation support, whether they have providers licensed in your state, and if you can pay with your insurance plan. A good place to start is a reference guide, such as the one created by Open Minds that lists reputable telebehavioral health organizations.

Telebehavioral health care is changing the way communities and families approach mental health services. At a time when the need for mental health care is soaring, this option holds great promise for addressing gaps in care and providing parents with a critical resource for addressing their child’s health and well-being.

 

Jeanine Miles, LPC, Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with Inpathy and the Director of Business Development and Training at the Center for Family Guidance. Jeanine is a New Jersey Licensed Professional Counselor and has over 20 years of administrative and management experience in healthcare and behavioral healthcare. She is responsible for the development and implementation of new programs including overseeing all start-up projects, social skills training and school based programs. Jeanine has provided therapy and other telebehavioral health services through Inpathy since the program was launched and has long been an advocate for telebehavioral health.

By Dr. James Varrell

The concept of “connected community” holds great potential for elevating and improving behavioral health outcomes for all patients. Connected communities proactively address a patient’s whole health—both physical and mental—and benefit from a comprehensive, multi-faceted behavioral health strategy.

Health care leaders recognize the potential of these models to positively impact clinical outcomes and reduce the need for higher-cost interventions by improving access to care at various points along the continuum. Yet, today’s communities often struggle to achieve this framework amid a severe shortage of psychiatric providers.

The reality is 96 percent of U.S. counties have unmet needs for mental and behavioral health services at a time when demand is soaring.1 Current shortages leave those needing care with less-than-optimal choices. People often turn to primary care doctors, or alternatively, opt for no treatment at all—leading to further deterioration or crisis situations that result in costly interventions.

The good news is that direct-to-consumer (D2C) telepsychiatry can help fill these gaps and improve the outlook on connected community models. While D2C is a relatively new concept, other settings across the care continuum have leveraged telepsychiatry for the past two decades, including hospitals, inpatient units, community-based case centers and correctional facilities.

Leveraged through easy-to-use videoconferencing technology, D2C offerings are opening new doors to psychiatric providers for evaluation, consultation and treatment.

D2C Telepsychiatry: Expanding Access And Referral Options

Growth of D2C telepsychiatry in recent years has expanded as patients become more empowered and seek out convenient ways of managing their care. Patients increasingly prefer “anywhere, anytime” options like the D2C model because it enables access to care from the comfort of home—or other private locations—on their own schedule.

This type of care allows providers to be more proactive and address issues before conditions reach what Mental Health America (MHA) refers to as a “stage four” level of severity. In effect, better patient engagement can trigger greater follow-through with care plans and minimize the potential for symptoms and issues to escalate.

Telepsychiatry often gives providers greater insights into their patients’ environments. For instance, a colleague of mine is a therapist in New Jersey, and she’s been treating one of her patients for years in person. When my colleague started using D2C Telepsychiatry, she was able to see her patient online through real-time video calls rather than in person, and noticed right away that her patient was hoarding her belongings. My colleague was able to learn about her patient’s living condition and other factors that influenced her treatment plans. Further, her patient reported feeling more comfortable and at-ease during their appointments.

D2C telepsychiatry also provides more referral options, enabling earlier interventions and greater access to services. While frequently sought out as a mental health alternative, many primary care providers are uncomfortable prescribing psychotropic medications or lack psychiatry expertise.

By providing a reliable behavioral health referral option, D2C telepsychiatry takes the pressure off of primary care providers. Moreover, collaboration and information exchange between the referring physician and D2C provider can allow for more comprehensive care.

Outside of primary care, D2C expands referral options for discharge planning from acute and inpatient settings. The current mental health provider shortage can slow down referral processes, leading to disjointed transitions where patients must “settle” on whatever is available in the nearby area instead of what is best.

Closing The Loop To A Connected Community

Even as health care leaders increasingly embrace telepsychiatry models, most are currently used in siloes across community settings. However, there’s opportunity to leverage existing resources and establish community-wide telepsychiatry networks to connect all appropriate care settings.

This connected community model improves both information sharing between providers and continuity of care for patients. Patients can use telepsychiatry to see the same provider or same network of providers across different care settings or from home with D2C care. In tandem, primary care doctors, community organizations and telepsychiatry providers can better collaborate on patient care.

Telepsychiatry networks not only improve care outcomes, but also create economies of scale. For instance, health care settings can benefit from sharing a telepsychiatry provider network. This option places less pressure on community resources to recruit and retain local behavioral health providers.

Communities can take steps to utilize a telepsychiatry network across care continuums by:

  • Bringing together payers, primary care, hospital systems, outpatient behavioral health, corrections, schools, skilled nursing and other community organizations
  • Assessing their current behavioral health resources to identify gaps and opportunities
  • Setting multiple locations up with technology to access telepsychiatry
  • Establishing a telebehavioral health network of licensed providers who are aware of community services and resources
  • Utilizing shared scheduling tools for booking psychiatric resources and appointments

Telepsychiatry helps address the gaps in behavioral health care across the continuum by proactively treating patients’ whole health through the concept of the connected community. By increasing patient access to care and referral options, this evolving model supports timely, proactive intervention, minimizing the potential need for more costly care and enabling better outcomes.

About The Author

James R. Varrell, M.D. is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who has been practicing telepsychiatry for 18 years and is the Medical Director of InSight Telepsychiatry. InSight’s direct-to-consumer division that accepts patient referrals for psychiatry and therapy is called Inpathy.

Original article posted on Health IT Outcomes