North Carolina bullish on telepsychiatry
August 19, 2013 in Medical Technology
North Carolina has invested $4 million in a new telepsychiatry initiative aimed at improving access to mental health professionals to all residents in the state.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos, MD, announced the plan on Aug. 16 at East Carolina University in Greenville, where they were joined by other state leaders.
“No matter where you live in North Carolina, you will soon have better access to mental health providers with the expansion of telepsychiatry across our state,” McCrory said in announcing the plan. “Technology will help us connect people with appropriate treatment programs so patients can avoid long waits in the emergency room. North Carolina can be a national leader with this program.”
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The statewide telepsychiatry program begins operations in January 2014. It will link hospital emergency departments to mental health professionals who can initiate treatment for emergency department patients in mental health or substance abuse crisis. By using secure, real-time interactive audio and video technology, telepsychiatry will enable a mental health provider to diagnose and treat individuals needing care at any remote referring site.
The state will invest $4 million over two years in the program, which will be overseen by the DHHS Office of Rural Health and Community Care.
The Statewide Telepsychiatry Program builds on the success of East Carolina University’s Center for Telepsychiatry and e-Behavioral Health and the Albemarle Hospital Foundation Telepsychiatry Project. The General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services recommended the project.
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According to federal guidelines, 58 counties in North Carolina now qualify as Health Professional Shortage Areas due to a lack of mental health providers. The majority of North Carolina emergency departments do not have access to a full-time psychiatrist. Today, patients often either wait or receive less than optimum care because of the lack of available mental health practitioners.
“During my travels to hospitals around North Carolina, it is apparent that improving quality and access to mental health services must be a priority for our state,” said Wos during the news conference. “By investing in a statewide telepsychiatry program, we are confronting one of North Carolina’s biggest and most important healthcare challenges. Through this program, we will be able to help hospitals struggling to meet mental health and substance abuse treatment needs in their communities and connect people in underserved areas of our state to qualified behavioral health providers.”