A recent study published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine revealed that behavioral health patients wait on average an astounding 11.5 hours before being treated or released.
These half-day waits are mainly due to the fact that many hospitals don’t even operate psychiatric wards anymore. And because reimbursement for behavioral health is among the lowest in medicine, many hospitals see these units as risky investments.
But the HealthONE hospital chain in Denver is bucking the trend by opening a new 40-bed psychiatric ward – one of the first in Colorado in quite some time. The new unit has implemented remote presence technology with a dual aim: to improve service to behavioral health patients while helping to shorten ED wait times. A remote psychiatrist can use the InTouch Telemedicine System and a device like the RP-Lite or RP-VITA to talk with the patient and make a timely diagnosis.
Dr. George Bussey, HealthONE’s chief medical officer, recently shared his organization’s strategic vision in an interview with National Public Radio. “ER wait times are often a function of how many people are in your waiting room and how many available beds you have,” said Bussey. “And if you have, for example, a 30-bed ED with five [behavioral health] patients who aren’t being moved out of beds, you’ve effectively turned yourself into a 25-bed emergency department, at which point you begin to get the backup.”
By directing behavioral health patients to a more appropriate care setting, HealthONE’s EDs can operate more profitably – and the shorter wait times give the organization a competitive edge over other area hospitals. Telepsychiatry also creates goodwill in the community. Patients love wait times that can be measured in minutes, not the time it takes to watch all three Lord of the Rings movies.
Making behavioral health patients wait 12 hours for treatment is downright medieval. Remote presence is helping them get the prompt, expert care they deserve – and helping EDs reduce wait times and improve the bottom line. You don’t have to be Carl Jung to understand why telepsychiatry is rapidly gaining momentum.