Many hospitals and health systems have never implemented a psychiatry or telepsychiatry program. Other hospitals have dabbled in telemedicine by providing telestroke or teleradiology services. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many health systems and community hospitals are turning to telepsychiatry to help meet the enormous behavioral health needs of their backed-up clinics and swamped Emergency Departments (EDs) caused by a shortage of mental health providers.
If you’re considering launching a formal telepsychiatry program at your hospital to help support mental health patients in your EDs and beyond, keep reading! This post will break down the benefits of a telepsychiatry program, tools for analyzing whether telepsychiatry is a good fit for your hospital, criteria for evaluating vendors, and helpful hospital implementation logistics.
How a telepsychiatry program can benefit your hospital or health system
Since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020, hospitals have seen overdose and relapse rates of patients dealing with substance-abuse disorders increase by 30%. Patients are dealing with more stress and anxiety about the pandemic and the subsequent economic and health fallouts. At the same time, more and more mental health patients are turning to EDs for care — which they may not be able to provide with current staff.
Fortunately, changes in healthcare regulations are expanding hospitals’ abilities to offer telepsychiatry in new settings that will help improve timely access to high-quality behavioral healthcare. That means, when caring for patients, hospitals will have additional opportunities to provide telepsychiatry and meet patients’ behavioral health needs more quickly and seamlessly.
Telepsychiatry services can be beneficial for patients with comorbidities of psychiatric conditions coupled with existing medical challenges (this combination often contributes to more severe health risks, higher utilization of EDs, longer hospital stays, and higher cost per patient). In addition, telepsychiatry benefits populations living in rural areas as they can have the opportunity to access health resources and services.
All things considered, when implemented effectively, a telepsychiatry program can go a long way towards helping hospitals meet their quadruple-aim goals of better outcomes, higher patient satisfaction, reduced costs, and improving the clinician experience.
Setting yourself up for success with your hospital’s new telepsychiatry program
Once you’ve determined a telepsychiatry solution may be a good fit for your hospital or health system, you should first evaluate the goals for your program. Plan for a long-term relationship with whatever telepsychiatry solution you choose (whether it’s a vendor like Iris Telehealth or an individual, local provider).
Initial steps should include: Identifying gaps and pain points, auditing your EHR to understand how often you’re addressing psychiatric conditions, discussing staff feedback on current processes and needs, and working through your overall psychiatric needs (including potential hourly and budgetary needs to launch a successful program).
As with any implementation plan, it’s important to outline how you’ll measure success. You should determine which metrics you plan to track to ensure your telepsychiatry program works well for your organization and your patient populations.
Potential metrics might include:
- ED boarding times
- Resources spent on sitters for behavioral health patients
- Med/Surge behavioral health patient volumes per shift or diagnosis type
- Financial metrics
- Patient satisfaction measurements
Later, you’ll look back at these goals and metrics to determine how successful your telepsychiatry program has been for the community and patients you serve.
Choosing the vendor or telepsychiatry partner who’s right for your hospital
Choosing a vendor can feel like an overwhelming process — because it’s often difficult to tell if someone will be a good fit for your organization.
But there are some key steps that can help you make your decision (and be confident it’s the right one):
- Create a checklist to understand your non-negotiable requirements for a telepsychiatry program to ensure potential vendors meet your needs.
- Request referrals from current or past clients from similarly-sized hospitals serving patient populations like yours.
- Research the leadership structure of potential vendors and the company’s ownership (companies run by physicians will likely have more experience providing quality care).
- Ask for quotes from potential telepsychiatry vendors.
- Analyze their bandwidth for technology support, support hours, and whether they’ll be ready by your program’s go-live date.
Keep in mind that vendors with Joint Commission accreditation are typically a step ahead of competitors. Joint Commission accreditation speaks to the quality of the vendor’s services and the vendor’s ability to enforce compliance and maintain effective processes.
Implementing a telepsychiatry program at your hospital
The implementation process for a telepsychiatry program can be time-consuming. Still, it’s worth doing it right so you’re setting your program up for success as soon as it officially goes live.
One of the biggest hurdles to launching a telepsychiatry program is the process of licensing and credentialing your telepsychiatry providers. This process involves confirming the clinician’s work history and education history while verifying references to provide an in-depth vetting of the clinicians. You’ll also contract and panel with health plans including Medicaid and Medicare as well as local, regional, and relevant private health plans.
If you choose to partner with Iris Telehealth, Iris can provide complete credentialing packets from our own Joint Commission accredited privileging process. Our TJC accreditation enables you to take advantage of credentialing by proxy and eliminates a large portion of your team’s workload while dramatically cutting down the time to go live with services dramatically.
Along with licensing and credentialing, we also recommend you assemble an on-side implementation team and a telepsychiatry care team to work with your telepsychiatry vendor as you prepare to launch.
You’ll also want to train your front desk and medical support staff on any necessary workflows around your telepsychiatry program.
Launching a telepsychiatry program can seem like a lot of work — but it’s worth it
Starting a new telepsychiatry program at a hospital or health system can seem like a daunting task. It involves understanding your patients’ needs, evaluating telepsychiatry companies, facing new logistical and workflow challenges, and leveraging technology effectively on both your and your patients’ end. But it can go a long way to alleviating pressure on your EDs, reducing unnecessary psychiatric bed holds, and decreasing your length of stay.
Plus, if you choose the right telepsychiatry vendor, they’ll be with you every step of the way to ensure your program is a success.
To learn more about how Iris Telehealth can help you build a successful telepsychiatry program at your hospital or health system, contact us, and we’ll get you the information you need.