Top 5 benefits of telepsychiatry in the ED

As behavioral health emergency department visits continue to spike, providers across the U.S. are scrambling to find ways to offer this service to patients in a more cost-effective, timely manner to increase throughput while simultaneously lowering expenses. 

In a March 15 webinar sponsored by SOC Telemed and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, Til Jolly, MD, CMO of SOC Telemed, and Hai Tran, COO of SOC Telemed, discussed the challenges hospitals face while serving psychiatric patients and how telepsychiatry can help healthcare providers lower boarding costs, improve discharge rates and mitigate employee burnout.

Providers face numerous challenges to provide mental health services in EDs

On average, 1 in every 8 ED patients has a mental or substance abuse disorder, explained Dr. Jolly. These patients often spend hours waiting for a psychiatric evaluation in the ED, which can limit throughput, increase boarding costs and cause missed revenue opportunities from other emergent patients due to bed capacity constraints.  

"Waiting costs can top over $2,000 [per mental health patient] … and reimbursement is also much less for mental health," said Dr. Jolly. He also noted there are "lost opportunity costs related to [a provider's] inability to take care of other patients because of the boarding of psychiatric patients."

While providers have hired locum psychiatrists, added more nursing hours and increased security to mitigate some of these challenges, these methods add operational expenses and can induce employee burnout, according to Mr. Tran.

"Operational issues, patient satisfaction issues [arise] given the ripple effects of an ED overburdened by psychiatric patients, [like] staff safety issues, staff retention issues … burnout or extended wait times for other patients," said Mr. Tran.

Telepsychiatry, a cost-effective tool for mental healthcare delivery

To solve many of these major challenges, providers can deploy a telepsychiatry program to provide timely, accurate and cost-effective mental health services in their EDs, explained Mr. Tran.

After speaking with numerous provider organizations and analyzing their ED data to understand their unique challenges and pain points, SOC Telemed identified some of the major benefits of telepsychiatry. They are listed here.

1. In comparison to hiring locum psychiatrists, telepsychiatry presents a less expensive coverage model.

With telepsychiatry, providers have the ability to find a coverage model fit for their facility at a much lower cost, because a provider can share the cost, explained Mr. Tran.

"Providers can put in place a 24/7 coverage model or a partial coverage model at a less costly price point because you can fractionalize the cost of one board-certified psychiatrist across multiple facilities," said Mr. Tran.

2. Telepsychiatry can give providers a tool to increase the discharge rate of behavioral health patients to improve throughput.

"We attribute this to experience," explained Mr. Tran. "[Telemedicine psychiatrists] see a lot of patients. It is that repetition that builds [the] skill set and knowledge to identify which patients are a potential harm to themselves and others versus those who are not. It is that experience that drives that high discharge rate in a safe, effective manner … which increases throughput."

3. Telepsychiatry can give providers a tool to treat behavioral health patients faster.

The average wait time for a patient to see a board-certified psychiatrist is between eight and 12 hours, according to Dr. Jolly. In comparison, most telepsychiatry programs are able to accommodate a patient within one to two hours. 

"That up to 10-hour difference is true cost savings," explained Dr. Jolly.

4. Telepsychiatry can help improve revenue capture.

Providers receive less reimbursement for mental health patients in the ED, meaning if telepsychiatry can increase throughput and discharge rates, providers have an increased bed capacity to take on more billable patients, explained Mr. Tran.

5. Telepsychiatry can help mitigate the looming shortage of psychiatrists.

"Psychiatrists are increasingly difficult to find, recruit and retain. It is a real concern for many hospitals," explained Mr. Tran.

However, a telepsychiatry model can help connect providers to these board-certified psychiatrists. In addition, one provider can use the same psychiatrist across its many facilities.

Overall, most providers struggle with caring for behavioral health patients; however, telepsychiatry can help mitigate some of the challenges and improve revenue capture by increasing throughput, decreasing operational issues and increasing access to faster, reliable care.

To listen to the webinar, click here.

To learn more about SOC Telemed and the benefits of telepsychiatry, click here.

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