Access to quality mental health care is a persistent problem across America. Research shows that one out of every five U.S. adults experiences mental illness, yet less than half receive treatment. One major culprit is the uneven distribution of mental health providers, which leaves many people in rural areas as well as urban centers without access to care.
In response, healthcare organizations are embracing telemental health services to provide care to more patients while also gaining operational efficiencies. As awareness and the adoption of telemental health grow, facilities across the country are continuing to refine their programs to support long-term success. Focusing on these four key areas can help facilities deliver telepsychiatry services that meet both patient and organizational needs for years to come.
A reliable tech stack
To ensure seamless implementation for your telepsychiatry program, it’s critical to get the technology right. Faulty internet connections and dropped sessions can compromise patient care and satisfaction. Along with performance of the technology in place, security and patient privacy should also be top of mind. The hardware and software you need to support your program is less expensive and complicated than you may think.
The basics include a quality internet connection with upload and download speeds of at least 4 Mbps, a computer with a function camera and microphone (internal or modular), and a reliable HIPAA-compliant videoconferencing software platform, like RegroupConnect™. Before the start of every session, pretest the video connection and let patients know exactly what information you’ll be collecting and how it will be stored. A partner with telepsychiatry expertise can help source the technology you need and troubleshoot any problems to keep things running smoothly.
An integrated approach to care
When telepsychiatrists work directly with the rest of a patient’s care team, they can take a more holistic approach to treatment and address mental health issues alongside physical ones. By working as a team, on-site staff can alert telepsychiatrists of patient issues that are difficult to detect on-screen, like whether a patient is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The on-site team can also ensure that patients adhere to recommended treatments. This type of collaborative approach is proven to be successful, particularly in providing care to patients in rural areas.
To support this type of holistic care, organizations like Oak Street Health have added on-site behavioral health specialists to coordinate care among in-person and virtual clinicians. That approach has been a successful one for Oak Street, increasing patient utilization while reducing the incidence of costly acute care episodes.
A careful approach to clinician licensing
While telemental health services help erase geographic barriers by connecting clinicians and patients across state lines, telepsychiatrists still need to be licensed appropriately. The telepsychiatrist must be licensed in the state where the patient is located during the session, which means most telepsychiatrists must have multiple state licenses and comply with an array of state practice regulations.
Fortunately, recent developments are making it easier for telepsychiatrists to practice across state lines. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) offers an expedited path to licensure for clinicians who meet certain requirements, with 29 states currently taking part in the compact. In addition, some states offer special telehealth licenses for practicing across states. Both the Veterans Affairs Department and the United States Army have taken steps to eliminate barriers to licensing.
Beyond the regulatory and reputational issues at stake, licensing your teleclinicians appropriately is essential for ensuring a high standard of patient care. A strategic telepsychiatry partner can be a huge help in managing licensing and related requirements, like facility-level credentialing and malpractice insurance. Since the entire process can take 120 days or more, having an expert to lend a hand can increase valuable bandwidth for your organization. Learn more about licensing in our white paper, “Delivering Compliant Care: A Guide to Telepsychiatry Law.”
While effective reimbursement practices are essential for financial sustainability, navigating the maze of federal and state guidelines can be a challenge for healthcare organizations. Currently, Medicare reimbursement is largely restricted to rural or clinician shortage areas, and Medicaid guidelines for coverage can vary widely from state to state. Each state can also mandate if private payers offer reimbursement, resulting in sizable differences in payments to clinicians and healthcare facilities.
Fortunately, reimbursement regulations are becoming friendlier as both public and private payers recognize the quality and cost value that telepsych delivers. To help navigate the fast-changing landscape and maximize reimbursements, consider working with a telepsychiatry partner with a dedicated compliance department that is well-versed on the latest rules and regulations. In-house compliance professionals provide streamlined expertise that ensure a compliant launch and maintenance of your customized telepsychiatry program. For more tips and best practices, read our guide to reimbursement, “Know Your Payers: A Guide to Maximizing Telepsychiatry Reimbursement.”
As adoption of telemedicine increases and barriers decrease, healthcare facilities are positioned to provide quality care, lower costs, and improve overall health outcomes through telepsychiatry. Contact us to see how Regroup can deliver sustainable, integrated telemental health services for your organization.