Behavioral Health: The Next Tele(mental) Health Frontier

Behavioral Health: The Next Tele(mental) Health Frontier

Anxiety. Depression. Substance abuse. Treating these and other behavioral health issues has historically meant in-person meetings with practitioners, therapists and physicians. However, the isolation-induced times in which we now live have escalated both the underlying issues and restricted access to traditional forms of treatment.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults live with mental illness. Now more than ever there is a series of barriers that keep the experts from reaching their patients – namely social distancing and quarantining. As these precautionary mandates continue, the need for behavioral health services has increased.

The Need for Telehealth Services

Even before the current pandemic, research conducted by the University of Michigan showed only 18% of those needing substance abuse disorder treatment were receiving care. Prior to COVID-19, less than 10 percent of the US population used telehealth for a clinical encounter and only 18% of physicians provided such services. The study concluded a telehealth solution was needed in order to reduce this treatment gap.

Now, everything has changed. COVID has sparked an unprecedented urgency that pushed telehealth to the top of providers’ priority lists. The underlying technology supports this fast adoption. Advances in usability and access to broadband has increased; the result, therefore, is an enormous uptick in usage.

 Telehealth not only reduces the need for travel, but also facilitates more appointments. It also address the spike in behavioral health issues caused by the novel coronavirus. One example of this comes from a report distributed by the CDC, that states 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use.

Mental health conditions are worsening. To address this growing need, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has broadened access to Medicare telehealth services so that a wider range of services can be made available. In March, CMS explained the 1135 waiver, where Medicare can pay for office, hospital and other visits furnished via telehealth. This includes mental health.

The new focus on utilizing telehealth to reach those with behavioral health needs has spawned a new term: Telemental Health (TMH).


Bringing Telemental Health to Life

Nearly all who struggle with mental health can benefit from TMH especially veterans and citizens of rural communities.

Veterans Benefit

When it comes to Veterans, most of the research revolves around PTSD treatment focusing on the success of treatment delivered via video teleconferencing. According to Veterans Affairs (VA) PTSD and telehealth studies, the major benefit of TMH is the elimination of travel. Travel can be costly, transportation may be unavailable, or, more importantly, it may be disruptive to treatment.

An additional benefit, TMH can be a useful tool in unusual situations. For example, some correctional and forensic settings make it difficult to transport the patient to a clinician. And finally, telemental health allows for care when unexpected circumstances make clinic access less possible, such as the patient’s need to travel or providing service within a disaster zone.

The impact and effectiveness of Clinical Video Teleconferencing (CVT) initially raised questions, especially as it pertained to suicide. However, the VA has gathered research that proves CVT delivery is feasible and clinically effective for PTSD treatments. Therefore, the VA has expanded the populations served via telemental health.

Rural Households Benefit

Unlike other types of health care, behavioral health care includes unique challenges facing the provider and the patient. These challenges are made worse in rural areas as discussed in the University of Michigan article mentioned above, The Use of Telehealth Within Behavioral Health Settings.

Several challenges to the provision of behavioral health services exist. The first is the unequal distribution of access to behavioral health providers. These workforce shortages in certain geographic areas are driven by multiple issues, yet telehealth can help alleviate those effects. TMH provides a link between clients in their home communities and behavioral health providers in other locations.

Additionally, anonymity and privacy can be important to individuals seeking services associated with mental illness. In small rural communities, individuals may face a lack of privacy and might resist face-to-face treatment. By offering services via TMH, individuals can maintain a higher level of privacy.

Who is serving, and how?

Telemental health has opened opportunities for providers to reach patients that would otherwise not be receiving treatment for behavioral health problems. Hospitals and even pharmacists connect with patients and consulting practitioners wherever they are. Additionally, studies have found psychiatrists, specifically, are the most common behavioral health professional to use telehealth, followed by mental health counselors.

Whether that patient is a Veteran, living in a rural community, or at risk for COVID-19, mental health professionals have stepped up their use of TMH. Here are a few applications:

  • For assessments, providers offer online substance use questionnaires
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy is being offered via videoconferencing
  • Medication management and monitoring is being done through text message reminders
  • Continuing care is offered through group chats, which is helping to prevent relapses
  • Webinars are offered to further educate both clients and providers
  • Interactive video is being used for collaborative consultation

What are the barriers?

First, internet connectivity issues. Patients may still face lack of reliable internet access. Especially internet-disabled rural communities. That, however, has been being addressed one county at a time. Since October of 2019, the USDA has invested $744 million to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to 34 states. Many states have their own initiatives, and many internet service providers are working closely with local governments to enable households, healthcare centers and businesses with the high speed required by TMH.

Second, implementation costs and lack of reimbursement options. DocsInk’s One-tap Telehealth solution addresses these barriers. Their Mobile Charge Capture feature allows for instant billing, drastically reducing reimbursement concerns. Hosting all solutions on a single platform reduces implementation costs making their solution an affordable fit for any size practice.

Behavioral Health Success = Telemental Health

Telehealth is important to the success of hospitals and individual practices. More importantly, it is becoming an invaluable tool for improving access to services and quality of care.

With easy integration, virtual waiting rooms and no apps for patients to download, DocsInk’s One-Tap Telehealth is the solution for improving behavioral health outcomes allowing for more timely access to providers servicing patients in need of psychiatric and mental health services.

To learn more about how your organization can benefit from Telemental Health through DocsInk’s One-Tap Telehealth Solution, email or call 888.577.7409.

Increase patient engagement. Reduce costs. Maximize efficiency. Improve health outcomes.

Wearables and Virtual Care: Engaging Patients, Improving Outcomes

Wearables and Virtual Care: Engaging Patients, Improving Outcomes

When Congress passed its 2018 bill expanding Medicare coverage to include telehealth and remote patient monitoring (RPM), options for delivery of patient care expanded. The government and insurance approval set the stage: clinicians could now offer virtual care via RPM and telehealth. It was officially a viable, safe, and effective alternative to traditional services and wearable technology is at the forefront of this healthcare industry change.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic early in 2020 further spurred adoption of RPM and telehealth. It became the primary solution for delivering care outside typical brick and mortar offices. Telehealth became the answer to the question: how can we protect the health of our nation’s population?

With government, insurance, and patients on board, we are well on our way to widespread implementation of these technologies. A 2019 study conducted by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) found that 68% of physicians strongly intended to use RPM. Now is the time for the remaining 32% to fully understand the positive impact that remote access to real-time data can have, specifically as it pertains to overall wellness, behavior change, and the treatment of both acute and chronic illnesses.

    Consumers Like Wearable Technologies – Apple Health. Google Fit. Samsung Health.

    While wearables come from many brands and in many forms, most people rely on at least one of these platforms to help them interpret the data their digital coach offers. More than one in four Americans currently use at least one wearable device. According to IDC, wrist-worn wearables are projected to increase to 105.3 million units by 2023.

    These growing numbers demonstrate that consumers increasingly have a keen interest in taking some level of personal responsibility for their health. Clinicians have found that patient engagement is a critical component in meeting clinical goals and improved health outcomes.

    According to the World Health Organization, 60% of factors related to individual health and quality of life are correlated to lifestyle choices. When medical professionals take advantage of technologies already adopted by their patients, they encourage positive habits and provide the feedback necessary for best results.

    The combination of wearable devices and doctor/patient engagement has numerous benefits, including:

    • Correctly taking prescriptions
    • Getting enough exercise
    • Reducing stress

    If people, then, are interested in being more involved, how can physicians better leverage this opportunity? How can they encourage these benefits for patients who are high risk due to acute or chronic illness?

    It’s become a simple answer: incorporate RPM to promote proactive medical care, accessing real-time data and intervening when necessary, based on changes/declines in patient’s vitals and other physiologic metrics.

    Impacting Crucial Metrics

    Remote patient monitoring (RPM) is shown to impact numerous factors, from curtailing recurrent rehospitalizations to better patient/provider care coordination. The holy grail, of course, is improving patient outcomes and reducing costs of care, while balancing workflow efficiency. All this can happen with the application of affordable RPM and telehealth technology.

    • Outpatient services is easily expanded. This is good news for all, but especially for underserved populations and patients in rural areas.
    • Reducing hospitalizations and hospital stays is one of the biggest demonstrable effects. A University of Pittsburgh study from 2020 indicated a 76% reduction in readmissions when RPM is utilized.
    • Improved patient outcomes are seen in more than 49% of those using this technology to manage health, according to the University of Pittsburgh study.
    • Reduced costs of care are reported by many independent studies, which specifically show a net savings of over $5k per patient per year for cardiac patients.
    • Improved compliance is near the top of the list of benefits for both critically and chronically ill patients. Clinical goals are met and conditions improve.
    • Patients more engaged in their health tend to remain healthier. Patient knowledge can result in fewer invasive procedures, fewer missed appointments, and authentic discussions on care options – all of which lead to better clinical outcomes.

    Make It Easy To Implement, Easier To Measure

    As with all science, measurement is the only way to improve. But it’s more than having a watch that tells you things about your health. Patients benefit from clinicians who can connect with them about their daily wellness monitoring. They also benefit from the capability to pair with medical devices which leads to disease management and recovery. The key is to simplify the implementation for both physicians and patients.

    A recent addition to the DocsInk platform for example, provides the ability for clinicians to synch with over 200 wearables. This kind of accessibility takes the pressure off care givers and office managers. It also aligns the devices patients have already invested in with the platform used in the office. Giving patients the flexibility to use the device of their choice makes them more likely to remain engaged in its use.

    In addition, when clinicians need to write an order for specific RPM devices to manage disease process(es), DocsInk connects to countless wearable devices to provide real-time data, notifications and alerts to promote best outcomes.

     Many physicians have historically been concerned about what to do with all this data. How do they begin to sort through all the information to get to insights about the direction of patients’ health? DocsInk research found the best approach is to customize the information being analyzed. Then, deliver only the specific information requested back to each clinician. That data then alerts the appropriate clinical team member to initiate patient touch points and interventions.

     While devices can monitor everything from respiratory rate, oxygen levels, pulse, blood pressure, body temperature and more, we understand that every patient and each provider that cares for them are different. That’s where DocsInk shines. 

    Now Is The Right Time

    When the pharmaceutical industry began its meteoric rise in the 1950s and 1960s, the populations began searching for the next pill that would make them feel better. Today’s patient relies on technology more than pills as they proactively participate in their own health.

    This monumental shift in how consumers approach health management results in an entirely new class of healthcare consumers who expect to be able to solve care problems without an in-person appointment. Patients, now more than ever, look for the option of remote care as they choose their medical providers.

    Now is the time to take advantage of new approaches. Advancements in this field had been on the sensor technology in consumer products, but now there are technologies that provide improved ROI for the medical industry, in addition to providing better patient care.

    Now is the time to implement RPM. The groundwork is laid with more than 284 million internet users in the USA – and that climbs daily with pandemic-inspired rural broadband implementation. Factors like global physician shortages and the evolving healthcare policy landscape should inspire pursuit.

    Increase patient engagement. Reduce costs. Maximize efficiency. Improve health outcomes.


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