Health system sees shorter wait times, improved compliance through behavioral health telemedicine

Community Health System says the program means patients are quickly able to move out of the emergency department and on to the proper level of care.
By Bill Siwicki
01:02 PM

Community Health System claims to have seen a range of benefits including shortened wait times, improved compliance with Joint Commission standards and more revenue through the use of a home-grown telepsychiatry program.

Community Health System’s “Access Center” currently is providing intake and placement services at nine hospitals in East Tennessee, with efforts underway to deploy services to 20 hospitals in Florida, two hospitals in Arizona, and eight hospitals in Indiana by the end of the first quarter 2018. Intake and placement services are provided 24/7/365 by licensed, Masters-level behavioral health clinicians, such as LCSWs and LPCs, and are provided from the Community Health System Access Center located in Franklin, Tennessee.

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Intake and placement services assist with the assessment of patient care needs and recommendations for treatment as well as the facilitation of patient referral/transfer functions, allowing frontline staff to focus more on direct patient care. The Access Center team works as “care traffic control” to assist with moving patients in and out of the health system.

“Before telemedicine, sadly, many patients went without specialized behavioral health assessment services,” said Jim Hurley, national director of behavioral health at Community Health System, which uses telemedicine technology from ViTel Net.

Regional Mobile Crisis Teams are available for consumers who are uninsured or have Tennessee Medicaid. But consumers with commercial insurance and/or Medicare often went without such specialized assessment services, resulting in increased boarding times as patients await admission to an inpatient behavioral health unit to undergo more comprehensive assessment and treatment.

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Community Health System has reaped a variety of benefits from its telepsychiatry program. There are shortened wait times as psychiatric assessments on average are able to occur within an hour of request. As such, patients are able to move out of the emergency department and on to the proper level of care.

There has been increased hospital revenue. Shorter emergency department wait times ultimately leads to an increase in revenue for the hospital system, as it improves the rate of bed throughput, CHS said.

Inappropriate commitments have been reduced. With timely and proper assessment of patients, unnecessary admits have been avoided; and involuntary commitment can be reversed and patients can be directed to the most appropriate treatment quickly, CHS said.

The provider has seen improved compliance with Joint Commission standards. By reducing boarding times, hospitals are closer to meeting the Joint Commission standard of boarding less than four hours.

Ultimately, establishing the telepsychiatry program, Community Health System has been able to effectively manage the psychiatric needs of its communities. The technology has allowed continuity of care and an increased range of behavioral health services for patients by removing barriers such as distance, cost and availability, CHS said.

“The overwhelming response by patients has been supportive,” Hurley said. “Rather than waiting hours, and in some cases days, to receive services, patients are often able to be evaluated by a behavioral health specialist within a matter of minutes. Additionally, hospital staff report improved patient care and emergency department throughput due to the increased support and collaborative efforts in helping to address the behavioral health needs of their patients.”

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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