Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic hitting in early 2020, Behavioral Health Services North in Plattsburgh, New York, did not frequently use telehealth because of regulatory constraints and what staff considered somewhat cumbersome practices.
During the pandemic, New York State became very aggressive in offering modified telehealth regulations, thus allowing healthcare organizations such as BHSN to move to a virtual care environment for the health and safety of staff and the patients they serve.
Zoom, Skype and Teams
"Our program staff connect with clients via an array of audio or video connections," said Shelby LaRock, executive business partner at BHSN. "While we predominantly use Zoom for telemedicine encounters, we also frequently use a variety of other modalities, including Skype, Teams and the telephone."
The healthcare organization uses Zoom, Skype and Teams in conjunction with its electronic health record, MyAvatar by Netsmart.
The telehealth technology has been used by BHSN's more than 50 providers and more than 3,000 clients, who receive clinical counseling, medication management, clinical intake appointments and more.
As telehealth continues to advance and become more widely accepted, BHSN will continue to build out its virtual care capabilities with a focus on expanding both the depth and breadth of platform capabilities, she added.
"The implementation of telehealth platforms allowed our organization to safely care for those we serve remotely and thus revolutionized how we care for our community," she continued. "Via telehealth, care providers are allowed the flexibility to work outside of traditional business hours to meet their clients' needs and also are able to support those with little or no other social interaction due to COVID."
Overall, through its use of telemedicine, BHSN has seen an uptick in the number of services provided and a decrease in no-show and cancellation rates. In addition, it has seen increased client engagement via virtual platforms.
"The implementation of telehealth platforms allowed our organization to safely care for those we serve remotely and thus revolutionized how we care for our community."
Shelby LaRock, Behavioral Health Services North
In mid-2020, the FCC's telehealth funding program awarded BHSN $39,181 for connected devices, monitors and software licenses to provide therapy, medication management, health monitoring and rehabilitation services via remote patient monitoring and telehealth to patients at risk for COVID-19.
"The FCC award funds were used to fund our telehealth platforms via updated equipment, additional equipment to expand our presence, continuity of services, and to facilitate client access," LaRock explained.
Taking telehealth to the next level
"Going forward, these funds will help us bring our telehealth presence to the next level and ensure that all clients who wish to receive telehealth services are able to. Prior to receiving these funds, many of our clinical staff did not have the proper equipment or training to provide telehealth, and they are now equipped with both."
Aside from technology upgrades and equipment, BHSN's mindset as a behavioral health provider has transformed and it is approaching its care model in a way that has not been done before, she added.
"We look forward with optimism to the future of telehealth and our further evolution with technology," she concluded.