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Overcome the Shortage: 5 Tips for Meeting Mental Health Care Demand with Telehealth

As we close out Mental Health Awareness month, we’re very grateful to our guest blogger, Dr. Peter Ganpat, Executive Medical Director at MindCare Solutions.

If your health system is struggling (and failing) to keep up with demand for mental health care, you’re not alone. It isn’t a new problem, of course. But the COVID-19 pandemic certainly made it worse.

Double-digit increases in demand for mental health care related to depression, anxiety, and stress are happening across the country. At the same time, the number of psychiatrists in the U.S.—already well below the number needed in many areas of the country—is estimated to fall 27% by 2030 as retirements surpass new entrants.

Impact of mental health care shortage on patients, providers, and health systems

Everyone pays a price for insufficient mental health care resources. Patients who may wait weeks or months for care—or go without it entirely—suffer needlessly. And the consequences can be dire. Suicides are more common in areas with a shortage of mental health providers, according to a 2021 study published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

Providers, who naturally want to help as many patients as possible, feel the burden as well. Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals were already dealing with growing rates of burnout. The increased demand will only exacerbate the problem.

Hospitals and health systems also deal with fallout:

  • Lower patient satisfaction scores. Long waits for mental health care are sure to drive down patient satisfaction scores.
  • Patient leakage. Patients who can’t get the care they need when they need it will look elsewhere—complicating continuity of care and impacting the bottom line.
  • Increased burden on emergency departments (EDs). Patients with untreated or undertreated mental health conditions can end up in behavioral health crises. Left with no other option, these patients often wind up at EDs—increasing ED wait times, further burdening providers and staff, and creating costs that often go unreimbursed. (In fact, the average loss for each behavioral health patient presenting in the ED is $1,200.)

Options for meeting mental health care demand

How can hospitals and health systems overcome these challenges and meet the needs of their patients? There are a few options.

Hiring more providers is the traditional approach to solving staffing shortages. In this case, however, that’s (much) easier said than done. In many areas of the country, there simply aren’t enough psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and other mental health professionals to meet the existing demand.

Bringing on full-time psychiatrists can also be quite costly. Today’s Hospitalist estimates the cost to train, credential, market, and onboard a physician is $200,000 to $300,000.

Lower reimbursement rates for mental health services also complicate the issue. And it isn’t just a Medicare problem. Analysis from the Congressional Budget Office revealed that commercial insurance plans paid in-network providers 13%-14% less than fee-for-service Medicare for mental health evaluation and management, as well as psychotherapy.

Another roadblock to hiring mental health providers is the long-term contracts typically required. Most psychiatrists expect a contract of at least one year or as many as three years. That leaves little flexibility for scaling to meet fluctuations in demand.

Increased efficiencies is another option. This can help hospitals and health systems increase the volume of patients seen without adding to staff. One of the best ways to increase efficiency is through telehealth. From patient assessment and triage to reduced ED visits, improved communication, and more, telehealth can have a big impact on efficiency and return on investment (ROI).

That said, increased efficiencies can only do so much. Without additional providers, most hospitals and health systems will still struggle to meet demand.

Working with a third-party telehealth partner is the solution of choice for a growing number of hospitals and health systems. The right partner can provide the efficiencies of telehealth, a dependable supply of additional mental health care providers, and the flexibility to scale as needed.

5 tips for selecting a telehealth partner for mental health care

There are critical differences among telepsychiatry/teletherapy vendors. The wrong partner could have a negative impact on the patient experience, the range of services you can offer, and even your ability to keep your patients within your system.

Look for a telepsychiatry partner that:

  1. Doesn’t compete with your health system. Many telehealth vendors are like Trojan horses. They work their way into your system only to take your patient revenues for themselves. To avoid this, make sure your hospital or health system will get 100% of the reimbursement from every telepsychiatry or teletherapy patient.
  2. Offers a range of providers. Psychiatrists are key providers of mental health care, including psychiatric diagnosis and medication management. But they typically don’t provide all types of mental health care. That’s where psychologists, therapists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, licensed clinical social workers, licensed counselors, and others provide value. Your chosen vendor should offer the full range of providers—so you can offer the full range of mental health care.
  3. Is easily scalable. Avoid vendors that require long-term contracts for their services. You should have the flexibility to adjust your capacity depending on the changing needs for mental health care in the communities you serve.
  4. Takes HIPAA compliance seriously. HIPAA compliance should be a core part of the platform’s functionality—not an add-on or an afterthought. Look for a solution that delivers HIPAA compliance fields in your database’s SOAP (patient intake or progress note), outlining key points such as patient consent and the type of virtual care platform, examination details, length of visit, and more.
  5. Is EMR-agnostic. Your telepsychiatry and teletherapy vendor should work with a broad array of EMR systems to accommodate your current system and the potential for a future system change.

Next steps

To help our clients serve their communities’ mental health care needs, eVisit has partnered with MindCare Solutions, a leading provider of round-the-clock telepsychiatry and tele-behavioral health services to hospitals, emergency departments, post-acute care facilities and outpatient clinics. MindCare’s remote clinicians are trained on the eVisit platform to ensure the same level of efficiency, accuracy, and patient satisfaction rates enjoyed by our clients’ local providers and supporting care teams.

To learn how eVisit’s platform and partnerships can help you achieve your business goals, schedule a consultation today.

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