Addressing Telemental Health

The Maine Rural Health Research Center (RHRC) located at the University of Southern Maine, Muskie School of Public Service issued a Research & Policy Brief in December discussing the complexities in delivering telemental health in today’s rural health system.

According to the brief, RHRC conducted a national study of rural telemental health programs in two phases. The first phase compiled a list of telemental health programs by reviewing grantee directories for relevant programs and conducted extensive web searches that generated a list of 150 telemental health programs.

The telemental programs were invited to complete a short online survey designed to collect data on their organizational context, services provided, staffing patterns, along with information on the area and populations served. Sixty programs responded to the survey with 53 of these programs providing telemental healthcare.

The second phase conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with administrators from 23 programs to understand the business and clinical environments in these programs. The Research & Policy Brief reports mainly on the first phase of the study and will present an analysis of the second phase results in a separate brief.

Some of the key takeaways from the research:

  • Although telemental health programs are providing more types of services in a variety of settings, many of the smaller programs reported serving a relatively modest number of patients through their telemental health services
  • Despite receiving some level of third party reimbursement, many respondents report that they may not be able to sustain telemental health services without supplemental financial support
  • Telemental health can be used with more success in certain settings and/or organizational delivery systems than others

 

The researchers in general found that telehealth technology by itself cannot overcome service delivery challenges without underlying reform to the mental health service system.

Go to http://mudkie.udm.edu/Publications/MRHRC/Telemental-Health-Rural.pdf to read the brief. For more specific details on this study, email David Lambert PhD., at david@usm.maine.edu.

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