Expanding Access to Care Through Telepsychiatry

How Telepsychiatry Can Effectively Address Disparity in Care Amidst the Opioid Epidemic and Increasing Suicide Rate

Guest blog post by Jonathan Evans, President and CEO of innovaTel

Amid the opioid epidemic and the increasing suicide rate, life expectancy in the United States has continued to decline or stay flat for the third year in a row. The last time the United States saw a similar three year decline was a century ago due to the flu pandemic. Three reports by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in late 2018 depict an increasingly upsetting picture of mortality in the United States, with mortality from drug addiction and suicide being significant factors.

This drop in overall life expectancy has been tied to the drug crisis and lack of access to mental health care. This prompts the question, how do we effectively address the lack of mental health care available? With a shortage in the overall behavioral health workforce, there are simply not enough psychiatrists to meet the demand which is why a more immediate solution like telepsychiatry is necessary.

Telepsychiatry as a Viable Solution

The most notable success factors that have been identified in telepsychiatry are its ability to effectively address the barriers of time, money and distance. At innovaTel, our psychiatrists are able to use their time more effectively by providing care from a remote location. This eliminates the need for a commute and potential travel between facilities, allowing them to see more patients in a day.

In addition to increasing the number of actual patients receiving care, telepsychiatry has made sustainable growth possible for community health centers. The expense of recruiting and retaining clinicians can prevent these facilities from growing their teams to meet the patient demand. Furthermore, innovaTel has the ability to recruit from all over the country, creating a larger pool of clinicians to choose from and eliminating the barrier of having to focus recruitment on an immediate geography.

Partners of innovaTel are never charged recruitment fees and are not responsible for licensing, DEA,malpractice policy expenses and clinician benefit costs. With this time and money saved, facilities can focus on meeting the behavioral health needs of their community.

Accomplishments and Growth

Over time, telepsychiatry continues to prove it’s value to policymakers; resulting in better coverage for those receiving its services and reduced barriers for prescribing medication via telepsychiatry sessions. In 2018 a pair of draft discussion bills were released by Congress to amend the federal Ryan Haight Act; that if passed, would make medication-assisted treatment (MAT) more accessible via telepsychiatry. MAT is a treatment method that pairs cognitive therapy with medication and is considered the standard for treating those suffering from opioid addiction.

The proposed DEA registration change would allow controlled substances to be prescribed via telehealth visits, positively impacting individuals living with certain mental illnesses that may require medications categorized as controlled substances. If passed, this legislation would make treatment methods such as MAT more accessible in areas without regular access to  clinicians that prescribe psychiatric medications.

Moving Forward

May is Mental Health Month, a time where we look to spread awareness about the importance of mental health and expanding access to care. While we work all year long to do this, May presents a unique opportunity to reflect on current initiatives and amplify the issues.

At innovaTel, we see further opportunity to address the opioid epidemic and rising mortality rates by making mental health care more accessible to all patients seeking mental health services. Increasing access to care through practical and scalable methods such as telepsychiatry can provide patients with the care they need faster. Reducing the wait time for patients can curb the progression of an illness or provide necessary intervention at a critical point in a patient’s life.