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North Carolina has just 1.2 psychiatrists for every 10,000 people. Some counties, like Watauga County, Lincoln County, and others, have no psychiatrists at all. This means that people struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD or other diagnosable mental health conditions face long waits or no access to the treatment they need.
That was the situation for Kari Lovdal and her children, Elise and Emory. When Kari had behavioral health concerns about her children, she found the waiting list to see a developmental pediatrician was six months long. Instead, she benefited from Atrium Health’s Behavioral Health Integration, which proactively screens for behavioral health issues in more than 50 primary care practices and uses telemedicine to guide patients who need help through appropriate follow-up care.
Further, Atrium Health’s telepsychiatry program ensures those experiencing a mental health crisis are able to get appropriate psychiatric care in the emergency room. Atrium also debuted a complete virtual care service this year, in which all services and specialties are able to connect with patients virtually, including behavioral health services like talk therapy, medication appointments, and more.
Two other examples come from Western North Carolina, where psychiatrist shortages are severe.
Bed shortages in rural North Carolina can mean that patients who need inpatient treatment may have to wait days for an opening. Fortunately, the HCA Mission Behavioral Health telepsych program allows these patients to be evaluated and treated virtually.
Dr. Jim Hartye, Medical Director of Ambulatory Behavioral Health, says approximately 125 patients use these services monthly, often with an amazing outcome – the telepsych care provided during the waiting period sometimes results in the patient no longer needing to be admitted to an inpatient facility.
At Erlanger Western Carolina Hospital, patients have access to critical follow-up mental health care coordination through telemedicine after they are discharged from the emergency department.
“Because most people who visit any emergency department do so in a time of crisis, it can be a stressful time for our patients and their families. This service is especially helpful for those patients who suffer from anxiety, depression and situational stressors,” said EWCH Director of Operations and Associate Chief Nursing Officer Teresa Bowleg, MSN, RN.
In the mid-Carolinas, FirstHealth’s Behavioral Services team also provides mental healthcare through telemedicine.
Jason Jerry, M.D., the medical director of Behavioral Services, said expanding the options for patients is crucial:
“We want to meet patients where they are, and if that happens to be in their living room via video visit, that is great,” Jerry said. “Telepsych services will allow us to continue treating both established and new patients, and it will ensure that anyone dealing with mental illness, addiction or even COVID-19 related stress can get the care they need.”
Telehealth has clear benefits for patients experiencing mental health concerns, but insurance coverage is inconsistent, which can lead to higher costs and less access for patients. Contact your local representative about expanding telehealth services in North Carolina — learn more here.