Behavioral Telehealth Is Booming

February 16, 2016 by InTouch Health

Thanks in part to the pioneering efforts of the Veterans Health Administration’s National Telemental Health Center, the number of remote behavioral care consultations is rising rapidly.

Behavioral care is a natural fit for telehealth because a psychiatric visit doesn’t require any physical examination, just face time. And many U.S. communities simply don’t have enough psychiatrists to meet the growing need. In fact, more than half the counties in America don’t have a single psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker. Here’s the scope of the problem:

  • About 25% of Americans (60 million people) experience mental illness each year
  • An estimated 80% of behavioral health patients present in EDs and primary care clinics, where providers often lack the training to diagnose and treat their conditions
  • 70% of EDs have a boarding time of up to 24 hours for patients waiting for an in-person behavioral health evaluation
  • Patients who have a mental illness in tandem with chronic physical conditions have healthcare costs up to 75 % higher than those dealing with physical ailments alone

Telehealth is a viable way to stem the crisis – and there are a host of new technologies and apps that are making a real difference. For example, behavioral care providers are now monitoring “passive data.” That’s where the patient uses a smartphone or FitBit-type device that captures a wealth of information on sleep patterns, movement (patient is isolating at home) and communication (patient is ignoring clinician emails). Armed with this data, behavioral care providers can often spot worrisome trends before they turn into full-blown depression or other disorders.

The public would be outraged if an ED patient had to wait 20 hours for a cardiac consultation. They should be equally outraged at the behavioral care bottleneck. Fortunately, telehealth technology is dramatically reducing that wait time while improving the quality of behavioral care across America.