Many Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) had never implemented a formalized telepsychiatry program before COVID-19. Then, the pandemic forced them and other behavioral health organizations to adapt quickly to a world where telepsychiatry was necessary. As COVID-19 continues to impact communities across the United States, many CMHCs are looking into building a sustainable future that incorporates telepsychiatry into their core services with the hope of supporting their patient populations and improving behavioral health care access.
It can seem like an overwhelming process at first! But, we’re here to help you get started. Keep reading for an overview of the benefits of telepsychiatry, tools to support a sustainable telepsychiatry program, regulations to consider during implementation, criteria for evaluating vendors, clinic logistics, and marketing.
How you can start building out a sustainable telepsychiatry solution
As a CMHC, you may face challenges dealing with patient surpluses, lack of quality providers, and difficulty achieving continuity of care – especially if you’re based in a rural community.
A formal telepsychiatry program can help alleviate some of these challenges by allowing you to pull from high-quality providers from different cities and states.
Fortunately, the steps you need to take to get your program started don’t have to be complicated or arduous. But, it’s important to make sure you’re ticking all these boxes so you’re setting your organization up for success.
- First, audit your EHR: Take note of how your organization addresses certain psychiatric conditions and your current patient wait times.
- Talk about telepsychiatry with your team: Consider how a formal telepsychiatry program will fit into your CMHC’s culture (you may also want to survey your patients, staff, and providers to gather their thoughts).
- Understand the scope of your needs: Make sure you’re aware of key factors, including your patient demographics, what provider type you need, how complex your cases generally are, your CMHC’s mission, and any other language or cultural considerations that are important for your community.
- Know your hourly and budgetary needs: Think through how long your current waitlist is and how many service hours would be a good fit for your organization.
- Check regulations for your state: Regulations can vary substantially from state to state. Understanding what the landscape looks like where you live is a critical first step.
Once you tick all these boxes, look back at your original goals for a telepsychiatry program and consider whether you need to make any changes or adjustments. At this point, it’s important to decide how your CMHC is planning to measure the success of your program.
After you lay out your general strategy, it’s time to consider vendor partners
It’s important to carefully vet potential telepsychiatry vendors to ensure they’ll be a good fit for your organization. After all, they’re going to be your partners every step of the way – and, in many cases, will be largely responsible for treating your patient populations.
Before you do anything else, create a checklist to understand your non-negotiable requirements for your telepsychiatry programs, so you have something to check vendors against.
Then, when you’re talking to vendors, ask them how they vet their own providers, make sure you request referrals, and ask hard questions about their quality control processes, how they handle provider implementation, and how they track their own goals. This information should give you a good idea of how they would fit your CMHC’s culture and processes.
Also, analyze vendors’ bandwidth for technology support, support hours (whether availability for support is 24/7 or restricted), and whether the vendor will be available on the go-live date.
CMHCs should find behavioral health providers who can adapt to their existing workflows and be long-term partners. And remember, the goal is not to replace in-person care but to supplement your existing team of behavioral health providers to better support your patients and improve your quality of care.
We can’t stress this enough – vendor culture fit is crucial
The right telepsychiatrist can be an invaluable part of your team. For example, an Iris Telehealth partner CMHC realized one of their local psychiatrists was responsible for over 50% of their patient population. They sought out a telepsychiatry partnership to mitigate their risk and diversify their pool of providers. Other Iris Telehealth partners were able to decrease their wait times from one year to five weeks and manage a 180% increase in client intake through their telepsychiatry programs.
As you’re building out your program and working with telepsychiatry vendors, it’s crucial that you carefully vet any potential clinical partners to ensure they provide high-quality care, have experience working with populations similar to yours, and share your CMHCs mission and vision for behavioral health care.
Once you’ve found the right vendor for you, it’s time for implementation and logistics
After all your careful consideration, it’s finally time to start incorporating your vendor partner and your new telepsychiatry providers into your organization. This process can be time-consuming, so make sure your schedule addresses these steps before your projected go-live date:
- Licensing and credentialing: Plan for this to be the longest part of your organization’s implementation process – and you should start this process immediately in collaboration with your vendor partner.
- Put together your implementation team: This team should include key decision-makers who will be involved in the telepsychiatry program as well as your clinical lead. At Iris, we also recommend having a dedicated “Telehealth Champion” to act as your primary telepsychiatry liaison.
- Assemble your telepsychiatry care team: This team will consist of different people from your implementation team, but it is just as important. Your care team might include front desk staff, nurses, medical assistants, counselors, and administrators.
- Train your staff: You will likely have to create dedicated workflows to help your staff effectively integrate your telepsychiatry program into your organization.
- Make sure your technology is in order: Review your technology use and workflows ahead of your go-live date. You may also be able to lean on your telepsychiatry vendor partner for tech support and guidance.
- Get the word out about your program: Ahead of your go-live date, start informing your patients and community about your new telepsychiatry services. We recommend doing this work six weeks before your launch date.
- Go-live: 24-48 hours before you plan to launch, we recommend going through a dry run to ensure everything is in order. Then, it’s time to officially start services!
Setting up your program can feel like a lot of work, but we believe it’s worth it both for you and your patients
In the age of COVID-19 and the ongoing mental health crisis, patients need telepsychiatry more than ever.
You can look towards building a better future for their patients and communities by developing sustainable telepsychiatry programs that supplement your critical behavioral health services. Fortunately, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel – we’ve already helped many CMHCs create successful telepsychiatry programs to serve their communities in creative new ways, before and during the pandemic.
To learn more about how Iris Telehealth can help you get your program off the ground, contact us, and we’ll get you the information you need.