With nearly 1,400 facilities across the country, community health centers play a crucial role in bringing affordable care to more than 28 million people across urban, suburban and rural communities. As a main source of healthcare for their patients, these centers offer a broad spectrum of services, ranging from preventive medical and dental care to advanced treatment for serious physical and behavioral health conditions.
By improving access to timely, holistic care, community clinics can help to lower overall healthcare costs by reducing costly hospitalizations. Since these facilities depend on funding from Medicaid and various federal grants, however, delivering cost-effective, high-quality care is often a difficult balancing act. This challenge is especially apparent in behavioral healthcare, where recruiting and retaining on-site clinicians can be difficult and cost prohibitive. As part of our ongoing series on telepsychiatry for various healthcare sectors, here’s how telemental health is helping community clinics meet the needs of their patients in a financially sustainable way.
Telemental Health and Community Health Centers
Telepsychiatry connects community health centers with a pool of quality clinicians across the country, enabling facilities to access ideal clinicians who can deliver efficient, effective care to patients with nowhere else to turn. By integrating telepsychiatry into their overall care approach, community health centers can accomplish patient care objectives that were previously unattainable.
Blending people, process and technology can have a significant impact on community clinics and their patients:
- Provide a level of care typically reserved for privately insured patients. Telepsychiatry erases geographic barriers, allowing centers to choose a clinician with the right skills and experience for their patients, such as one who specializes in treating children and adolescents or opioid abuse disorder. Since visiting a specialist is often inconvenient and costly for low-income patients, community health centers can encourage more patients to get the help they need and expand their billable services by offering telemental health alongside primary care services.
- Lower the costs of providing care. Recruiting, retention and turnover create significant expense for any organization, particularly for centers operating on fixed budgets from public payors. On average, community health centers report taking a year to fill psychiatrist openings, with 56% struggling to find a suitable clinician for at least one behavioral health position. By working with a telepsychiatry partner with a broad network of clinicians, community health centers can eliminate the cost and hassle of on-site recruitment. For centers without the patient volume or resources to justify an on-site clinician, telepsychiatry can also help align the appropriate amount of services while avoiding the expense of a full-time salary or paying a locum tenens physician.
Steps for Success: Delivering Telepsychiatry at Community Health Centers
As with all mental health care, telepsychiatry is most effective when integrated into a patient’s overall care plan. Regroup takes a collaborative approach with its community health center partners like the Center for Youth and Family Solutions (CYFS) of Central Illinois and Eastern Iowa. This ensures that virtual and on-site clinicians work together seamlessly while providing wraparound support.
Follow these key steps for success:
- Align clinician experience with health center workflows and patient demographics. Every clinic has its own patient demographics and needs, which is why it’s important to find a telepsych partner who can customize a program, recruit clinicians with various backgrounds, and adjust over time as clinic needs change. For CYFS, finding a child and adolescent psychiatrist who could also adapt to the center’s unique workflows was an ongoing challenge. Regroup tapped its network of clinicians to find a psychiatrist experienced in working with children in community health settings. Regroup also makes long-term placements so that patients see the same clinician week in and week out, creating care continuity that closely mirrors personalized in-person experiences.
- Take a holistic approach and leverage telepsychiatrist expertise. By working together as one team, virtual and on-site clinicians can identify patient issues earlier, reduce avoidable acute care episodes, and uncover efficiencies and best practices. CYFS has found success in this approach with its own telepsychiatrist, who reviews patient caseloads regularly with the team and has learned the specifics of state Medicaid laws to ensure she prescribes covered medications. Even though she is several states away, she has become a core part of CYFS operations, beloved by staff and patients alike.
- Outsource administrative burdens where possible. For resource-strapped health centers, an experienced partner can provide the operational and technical support needed to keep things running smoothly. That includes deployment, IT and credentialing responsibilities, not to mention help in navigating complex and ever-changing reimbursement and regulatory guidelines. Like finding the right clinician, working with the right telepsychiatry partner can help ensure the best possible operational and clinical outcomes for community health centers and their patients.
The Center for Youth & Family Solutions, a community health center in Bloomington, IL, has partnered with Regroup to deliver critical behavioral health services to children and adolescents under 21. Read their story to understand how they integrated high-quality, cost-effective telepsychiatry care and retained their patients for improved care continuity.
Contact Regroup to learn more about how community health centers are delivering high-quality, financially sustainable care through telepsychiatry.