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Telehealth is playing an ever-increasing role in the continued competitive advantage of provider organizations. How? By providing access to specialists in hard-to-serve locations. By imbedding “virtual” behavioral health in primary care systems. By increasing the productivity, and reducing the unit cost, of delivering psychiatric services. For most managers in the field, these statements aren’t surprising – and we’ve written about them before (see OPEN MINDS Market Intelligence Toolkit on Telehealth GuidelinesEased Telehealth Regulations Mean Expanded Services, and Telehealth – Effective or Not? It Depends On The Measure).

What is surprising is finding organizations that are making telehealth work to its full potential – in terms of both consumer service and organizational strategy. That made the presentations by Sherrie Williams, LCSW, Executive Director, Georgia Partnership For Telehealth; and, Jonathan Evans, President & Chief Executive Officer, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health, How To Use Telehealth To Facilitate Behavioral Health Integration, at the 2014 OPEN MINDS Planning & Innovation Institute, particularly interesting. These provider organizations have expanded their use of telehealth in recent years and, to quote a much-used phrase, are better at “delivering the right clinician” and “providing the right service at the right time at the right place.”

sherrie_williams2Speaking to her experience at Georgia Partnership For Telehealth (GPT), Sherrie Williams recounted the growth of their use of telehealth – from eight telehealth encounters in 2006 to over 140,000 encounters in 2013. GPT is a Georgia statewide collaboration among policy makers and health care providers, providing access to health care via telemedicine. GPT operates 500+ rural and specialty sites within its network for over 180 specialists, representing 40 specialties.

Ms. Williams described GPT’s adoption of an “open access network model” which creates a web of “access points” so that any service site can connect with any other site. The key to these sites – corrections facilities, schools, community health centers, and hospitals – is a commitment to understanding that telehealth consumers are treated just like consumers receiving services face-to-face.  The ability to connect scarce behavioral health professionals to a variety of settings can facilitate care coordination for the most complex and resource-intensive clients.

cons-evans-jon-tiiJonathan Evans’ telehealth experience started at Safe Harbor with a SAMHSA telepsychiatry grant in 2007, evolved to one full-time telepsychiatry position in 2010, providing 20 hours weekly to rural clinic in Pennsylvania, and then became an outside contract with more than 1,000 units of care a month in 2014. What is Safe Harbor looking for when recruiting new psychiatrists? They are looking for doctors who can combine clinical quality and customer service – customer service orientation and collaborative team approaches are key qualifications. Within the program, Safe Harbor doctors can be contracted to provide services to distant clients under contractual arrangement.

An example of this work includes a recent project with St. Vincent’s Medical Center (grant provider) to provide telepsychiatry consultation service to 35 physicians in its primary care network. Mr. Evans noted “Many patients are evaluated by psychiatrists in a timely manner vs. the typical months waiting time, multiple issues can be addressed at once via consultation with a nurse care manager linking patients to community resources, and this consultation model allows many cases for review in an hour.”

With the telehealth market in the U.S. expected to grow from $240 million in revenue in 2013, to $1.9 billion in 2018, now is the time to position for your own competitive advantage. Is your team looking at better use of telehealth in your service delivery models? Check out these resources from the OPEN MINDS Industry Library:

  1. Building A Sustainable Telehealth Program
  2. From Telehealth ‘Pilot To Prediction’
  3. Bad Telehealth Without Telehealth Guidelines
  4. Home Telehealth Potential
  5. Four Telehealth Strategy Considerations

For more, make sure to join me at the 2014 OPEN MINDS Technology & Informatics Institute for my session, Using Telehealth To Reduce Costs & Add Revenue: A Guide For Provider Organization Executive Teams.

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