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Why It Is Vital to Improve Access to Behavioral Health and How Telemedicine Can DO It.



That’s One Hundred and Ninety-Three Billion Dollars.

That is the amount in lost earnings American workers suffer every year because of serious mental health issues impacting their lives.

How much is that?

  • You could buy almost 6½ Million cars (at $30,000 each)

  • You could buy almost 1 Million homes (at $200,000 each)

  • You could give EVERY man, woman and child in California $4886

  • You could give EVERY American nearly $600

  • It would take you 1,930,000 years to save that much if you saved $100,000/yr

The Real Impact of Mental Illness

If you are contemplating suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 – The National Suicide Prevention Hotline and get help now.

We can agree that is a lot of money, but let’s look at the human side of mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has staggering statistics that put a face on the number.

  • 43.8 million adults/yr in the US suffer from mental illness – that is about one in five

  • Almost 9.8 million adults/yr suffer from serious mental illness – to where it interferes with one or more major life events

  • Adults in the US living with serious mental health issues DIE, on average, 25 YEARS EARLIER than others – “largely due to treatable medical conditions

  • 21% of youths between the ages of 13 and 18 suffer from some form of serious mental illness in their short lives

  • 70% of the youth in juvenile detention systems have at least one mental health condition

  • 20% of state prisoners and 21% of detainees in local jails report having a recent history of a mental health condition

  • 20.2 million Americans suffer from substance abuse disorder and over 50% of those have a concomitant mental health condition

  • 59% of adults with mental illness received no mental health services in the past year, and the same is true for over 50% of children with mental illness

  • Only half of African Americans and only one-third of Asian Americans use mental health services (compared with Caucasians)

  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans and the 2nd leading cause for those aged 10-34

  • 18 – 22 US Veterans commit suicide EVERY DAY

  • Rural patients are more likely not to seek treatment

Telemedicine Offers Substantial Help

The question then arises, “Why didn’t they just get help?”

In 2017, Merritt Hawkins published their physician incentive review and found psychiatry was the 2nd highest on the list of most recruited specialties. This implies an impending shortage of psychiatrists on the horizon. In the report they quote Joseph Parks, MD, the Medical Director of the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), “The supply of psychiatrists, already constrained, is going to diminish significantly. There are not enough psychiatrists in the wings to fill this inevitable gap. The Merritt Hawkins report stated:

“The shortage of psychiatrists is an escalating crisis of more severity that shortages faced in virtually any other specialty.”

What can be done?  One spoke on this hub of care that has proven itself useful is telemedicine.

A randomized controlled study published in 2012 in the journal Psychiatric Services assessed the impact of treating depression over a telehealth modality. At two years out, 43% of the web-treated care group and 30% of traditional-care patients reported to be “depression free”. The web-treated patients demonstrated additional positive outcomes:

  • Improved general mental health

  • Greater satisfaction with specialty care

  • New coping skills

  • Improved confidence in managing depression

The University of Michigan School of Public Health Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center published a report in March 2018 addressing the use of telemedicine treating behavioral health. It reported that telemedicine can “reduce maldistribution of professionals and improve access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment in the US.”  But, they also note that as other medical specialties consider telemedicine just another way they deliver care, psychiatry is slow to adopting this paradigm.

What can telemedicine do to improve the outcomes of behavioral health patients? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) created examples of how telemedicine could be helpful in the continuum of care:

  • Assessment: Online substance use questionnaire

  • Treatment: Behavioral therapy through videoconferencing

  • Medication management: Text message reminders to take medications as directed

  • Continuing care: Group chats for relapse prevention

  • Education: Webinars for clients and providers

  • Collaboration: Interactive video for consultation

Most mental health providers (78% psychiatrists) who used telemedicine to treat their patients did so through video conferencing.  A platform that provides HIPAA compliant video conferencing is all that is needed to provide much needed availability to mental health professionals.

With the growing opioid crisis in the US, it will be more important than ever to make treatment options available to those who need them, especially since the Department of Health and Human Services has implemented a five-point plan to attack the problem head-on. On average, 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

Telemedicine is Front-Line Treatment

Improving access to behavioral health is vitally important in the United States.  This continually proves to be a challenge as the number of behavioral health providers shrinks while the number of patients needing their services grows. Telemedicine is one of the most efficient and effective ways to successfully face this challenge and make a positive impact upon the lives of these silently suffering patients.

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