According to the CDC, approximately 146.5 million patients visit hospital emergency departments in the United States each year. Among those seeking emergency care from EDs is a growing number of patients suffering from mental health crises. However, when it comes to addressing this high-demand for psychiatric care, many emergency departments and hospitals don’t know where to start. Fortunately, telepsychiatry can help.
In this post, we’ll explore various challenges organizations face in the ED and how telepsychiatry can improve throughput in EDs and increase access to quality mental health care.
The current state of telepsychiatry in the ED
So, why is it difficult to address mental health needs in the ED? The truth is, hospitals and health systems are overwhelmed, and addressing mental health needs in the emergency department can prove challenging for several reasons:
- Increased need for specialty care: Hospitals have witnessed a 24% spike in mental health emergency department visits for kids aged 5 to 11 and a 31% increase for adolescents aged 12 to 17.
- Lack of resources: When they don’t have adequate behavioral health support, some hospitals and health systems may work with locum tenens to help supplement gaps left by the ongoing provider shortage. However, locums often lack integration and don’t facilitate a long-term, team-based approach.
- High costs: According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, mental and substance use disorder ED visits had service delivery costs of more than $5.6 billion, representing more than 7% of the $76.3 billion total in ED visit costs.
- Patient return rate: In an analysis of ED visits for mental health and substance abuse, 14.2% of patients returned to the ED or hospital within 30 days.
If you’re seeing these problems day in and day out, you’re not alone.
How can telepsychiatry help with throughput in the ED?
Telepsychiatry equips hospital EDs with the much-needed ability to quickly provide patients with access to high-quality psychiatric care through a virtual visit. With telepsychiatry, patients no longer need to wait hours to receive treatment from an ED physician or an in-person consultation from a psychiatric provider, which drastically reduces their length of stay in the ED.
What’s more, telepsychiatry helps ease the stress on attending ED physicians and staff by providing them with top-notch psychiatry providers who can quickly assess, treat, and disposition your patients — freeing your ED team up to focus on treating patients who come in for medical and surgical needs.
However, before officially launching your telepsychiatry program into your ED, make sure you’ve worked through any barriers or misconceptions around telepsychiatry within your organization.
Three common barriers to telepsychiatry in the ED
Telepsychiatry is growing in popularity. In fact, according to the APA, nearly 38% of Americans have used telehealth services to meet with a medical or mental health professional. The report also highlights that nearly six in 10 would use telehealth services for mental healthcare. As the public’s acceptance grows, more and more healthcare organizations are following their lead. In the American Hospital Association’s report on telehealth, as of 2017, 76% of hospitals reported utilizing telehealth.
However, despite the growing popularity, there is still hesitancy around implementing a virtual solution, whether its technology concerns, common misconceptions about telepsychiatry, or cultural considerations. Determining how to tackle these worries is essential to a successful implementation.
- Technology barriers
The most common objection to implementing telepsychiatry into the ED is the fear of not knowing how to use the technology correctly, as well as a lack of fluency in technology. In most cases, questions tend to arise about the equipment needed for telepsychiatry consultations, such as where it will be located and who will be responsible for coordinating the machine. By partnering with a telepsychiatry vendor like Iris Telehealth, we act as a technology-agnostic addition to your team by integrating seamlessly into your current systems and equipment you’re already using.
- Misconceptions about telepsychiatry
A common misconception about telepsychiatry in the ED is that it isn’t as effective as in-person treatment. However, telepsychiatry can be just as effective as in-person treatment. A telepsychiatrist, in collaboration with on-call staff, is able to assess patients, manage risks, and create a treatment plan to properly treat patients — just like an in-person visit.
- Changing ED culture
Another tough objection is getting staff on board with telepsychiatry in the ED. Attending physicians and staff are used to — and often prefer — providers to be in close proximity to them due to ease of access and collaboration. Although working with telepsychiatry providers can be hard on staff at first, it is something that teams can overcome through open communication, education on processes and procedures, and making sure that staff is always supported. When EDs partner with Iris Telehealth, we offer organizations and our providers continual support and resources, no matter the time of day.
The biggest benefits for EDs working with a telepsychiatry vendor
When emergency departments partner with a telepsychiatry vendor like Iris Telehealth, they receive on-demand support and resources to better serve their community. Telepsych providers can assess a patient’s needs and manage their risk to ensure each patient receives proper treatment and is dispositioned quickly. Along with this benefit, patients experience several other advantages, including:
- Improved access to specialty care that might not otherwise be available
- Better outcomes due to integrated behavioral health and primary care
- Reduction in delayed care
- Reduction in transportation barriers, such as lack of transportation or the need for long drives
- Increased feelings of safety, security, and privacy
Emergency departments that utilize telepsychiatry have access to psychiatrists around the clock. No matter if a patient comes in needing help in the wee hours of the morning or during regular business hours, a provider will be available to cover your emergency department.
When telepsychiatry is implemented into the emergency department, doctors and staff can focus on medical and surgical treatments and reduce the length of mental health patients’ stays. When mental health patients have access to adequate psychiatric care, they leave healthier and happier.
How telepsychiatry transforms the ED
Telepsychiatry is making it possible for more people to get the care they need in a hospital setting without the long wait. In fact, 59% of people say they would use telehealth for their mental healthcare, and by 2029, behavioral health visits may increase by 50%. As telehealth becomes the norm, organizations see the benefits by way of on-demand resources, cost savings, and additional expertise.
On-demand resources: Telepsychiatry serves as a 24/7 resource for organizations and their patients – allowing patients access to high-quality providers who can assess their needs and manage risk to ensure each patient receives proper treatment, around-the-clock.
Cost savings: This virtual solution helps hospitals meet their organizational and financial needs by helping them avoid unnecessary bed holds. Additionally, since healthcare spending makes up a large portion of any community’s economy (especially rural communities), telepsychiatry services can give medical assistance to local individuals, so they don’t need to travel outside the community for their care.
By implementing a telepsychiatry solution, your organization can help more people in the community, increase throughput in the ED, and release pressure on your providers and overall organization.
How Iris Telehealth can help
Iris Telehealth’s mission is to make sure that no matter where someone seeks mental health help, they receive the best care and treatment possible. When a patient comes through the emergency department seeking mental health services, it’s critical that their throughput wait time is at a minimum and access to high-quality care is seamless.
If you would like to learn more details about how our services can integrate into your ED, you can download our whitepaper today.