Is your emergency department (ED) becoming the go-to for behavioral health patients because your psychiatry unit is under too much pressure?
If so, you’re not alone.
The United States is experiencing a shortage of psychiatrists and mental health providers — and it’s expected to worsen in the coming months. Community and inpatient resources for mental healthcare are dwindling. With fewer providers, appointments, and specialized psychiatric facilities available, more and more behavioral health patients are coming to the ED as a last resort.
This mental health crisis can have big implications for your health system, including:
- Increased length of stay
- Higher admission and transfer rates
- Poor patient satisfaction (due to long wait times)
In this post, we’ll share how telepsychiatry for hospitals can revolutionize behavioral health services in the ED — and other patient care areas. Telepsychiatry can ultimately boost mental health access, patient satisfaction, and hospital cost savings. We’ll also discuss three things you can consider when starting a telepsychiatry program for health systems or hospitals.
Telepsychiatry can improve access and patient satisfaction
Emergency telepsychiatry services allow hospitals to give patients faster access to high-quality psychiatric care through a virtual visit. This means behavioral health patients don’t have to wait for hours to receive treatment from their ED physician. In addition, they can bypass an in-person consultation from a psychiatric provider, which can mean a shorter length of stay in the ED.
One study even found that a virtual visit conducted in the ED lasted 30-45 minutes — in stark contrast to traditional in-person ED visits, which can take 2 to 2.5 hours.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, patients have increasingly welcomed telemedicine into their healthcare journey as they seek more convenience and partnership with their healthcare providers. A study published in 2021 found that around 82% of respondents considered a virtual visit as good as an in-person visit by a clinician.
That means telepsychiatry can offer a more comfortable, high-quality, and efficient ED experience for patients experiencing critical mental health conditions.
Telepsychiatry can increase hospital discharge and follow-up rates
Studies have found that EDs that don’t use telepsychiatry are three times more likely to have used observation services to reduce ED crowding. However, these observation services often result in high admission and transfer rates.
Not only that, but observation services can prove costly because they often require an investment in additional staffing. To make matters worse, many hospitals and health systems struggle to meet Medicare’s requirement to follow up with behavioral health patients within seven days of discharge.
In short, the current approach to behavioral health management is just not sustainable given today’s evolving healthcare landscape, which has become more focused on value than on the number of services provided.
Telepsychiatry can accelerate and enhance patient care, thereby improving patient outcomes and reducing the use of the ED
For example, Iris Telehealth provides hospitals and health systems with highly qualified psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners who can support your ED by:
- Assessing whether the hospital can discharge a patient instead of admitting or transferring them.
- Starting treatment during a visit so the patient doesn’t have to wait for an in-person psychiatric consultation or follow-up visit.
- Providing follow-ups for patients discharged from the hospital, thus ensuring continuity of care and Medicare compliance.
With a telepsychiatry vendor supporting your ED care team, patients are more likely to receive specialized, appropriate, and efficient care. This optimized care frees up more ED and inpatient beds for patients with medical or surgical issues. As a result, hospitals and health systems save more on costs due to reduced boarding times as well as lower admission and transfer rates.
While telepsychiatry can positively impact behavioral health patients in the ED, hospitals and health systems can also leverage the service in other patient care areas.
A look beyond the ED: The future of telepsychiatry in hospitals
As patient needs grow more complex, we’re discovering opportunities for telepsychiatry in other departments besides the ED.
Aside from incorporating virtual care services into their inpatient psychiatric wards, health systems can expand telepsychiatry in palliative and hospice care, where patients and caregivers may need substantial behavioral health support to manage anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns.
At the end of the day, targeted, comprehensive care will be crucial to boosting patient outcomes and hospital revenue.
Incorporating telepsychiatry into your hospital or health system
If you’re interested in implementing a telepsychiatry program to support behavioral health patients, know that the most crucial step is choosing a telepsychiatry vendor you trust.
Here are three major factors you should consider:
- Technology: As with all changes to hospital culture, hospital staff may seem reluctant to accept a new telepsychiatry platform. For this reason, many of our partners have seen value in the fact that we are technology-agnostic. Our providers can work with your electronic health record or telehealth platform, so your staff doesn’t have to worry about learning how to use a brand new platform.
- Regulatory Standards: The telemedicine boom has triggered regulatory changes that carry various implications on billing, risk management, and consenting practices, to name a few. It’s important to partner with a vendor who is knowledgeable about these changes to not only ensure compliance but also help maximize reimbursement from payers.
- Goal Commitment: Whether your goals are decreasing ED wait times, increasing patient satisfaction, or spending less money on observation services, you need a consistent partner you can trust to achieve them.
If you partner with Iris Telehealth, you’ll receive access to a dedicated telepsychiatric care team that’s committed to your hospital or health system’s vision for behavioral health services.
We’ll help you develop realistic goals along with an action plan to implement your telepsychiatry program properly. You can also count on us to effectively and quickly remedy challenges that may arise during implementation (e.g., staff acceptance, technical issues).
Building a successful telepsychiatry program can seem overwhelming. But we’re here to make the process more manageable and less stressful. Contact us — we’ll provide the information your hospital or health system needs to reshape the future of behavioral health care.