Telepsychiatry Extends Services Across Maine ERs
In recent years, increasing percentages of emergency department visits have required a psychiatric consult, but the number of psychiatric beds in emergency rooms has dropped. Amidst such a shortage, patients often end up with longer ER stays or are released without being treated. In Maine, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center added emergency telepsychiatry services to their renovated ED in 2010; this allows them to link patients with a mental health professional around the clock.
Maine struggles in caring for behavioral health patients due to its rural nature. Access to specialists is limited with only five hospitals with psychiatric services and three psychiatric facilities for the entire state. Even with these numbers, there simply weren’t enough patients in Maine to support telepsychiatry at St. Mary’s alone; teaming up with other facilities throughout the state and nearby New Hampshire solved the problem for both areas.
The business model is finding success among small health systems who can pool their resources and trade services through telemedicine. Of course, the entire concept requires a paradigm shift: Health systems who offer different services are not competing against one another, but rather combining healthcare services in an effort to increase access to needed care throughout the region.
Following the success of the ED program, St. Mary’s is expanding telepsychiatry to nursing homes and on-call programs, as well as launching a teleneurology pilot project.
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