Telehealth Utilized for Behavioral Healthcare Services in Medical Facilities
As a provider of liability insurance solutions for medical facilities, at Caitlin Morgan we like to share trends emerging in the segments we serve. One of these trends over the last couple of years is in the behavioral healthcare industry and the move towards providing services through the use of telehealth or telemedicine. Telehealth involves the use of technology to deliver care through techniques like videoconferencing and other online methods.
More than 36 million Americans, in general, according to a study by the Affiliated Workers Association, have used telemedicine in some way. In addition, in an article in Forbes magazine, reports predict that the U.S. telemedicine market will grow from $240 million in 2013 to $1.9 billion in 2018, which is an annual growth rate of 56%.
Moreover, the military has focused on using telemedicine to treat behavioral health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning home from combat. In fact, about 55% of the Army’s telehealth programs are aimed at behavioral healthcare.
According to a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) report, generally speaking, “tele-behavioral health” can take two forms: A non-behavioral care provider can use telehealth technology to conduct a distance-based consultation with a behavioral health specialist to discuss how to handle a patient’s mental health needs. Or, a patient can participate in a video conference session with a behavioral health specialist.
The move towards providing behavioral healthcare services among medical facilities via telemedicine is due to several factors, including the potential for cost savings, efficiencies and expanded access. For example, facilities and clinics can gain access via technology to experts in behavioral health not located in the community. Staff can meet and collaborate more easily on a specific case, particularly when connecting individuals at various sites. Patients gain greater access to care, as they don’t have to drive outside their communities when a clinic or facility is not available to them; this is particularly important in rural areas. Telehealth can also cut the cost of care delivery. According to the HRSA report, patient relapse events can be lowered if telehealth enables a provider to deliver counseling and intervention services via teleconferencing sessions in lieu of on-site appointments that take longer to arrange an off-site location.
Of course, there are many considerations for a medical facility to assess before deciding on incorporating the use of telehealth in its behavioral healthcare services, including if it’s a good fit, partner commitment, scalability, the costs involved, staff training, etc. Also important are the issues involving laws, regulations, privacy and liability. When it comes to privacy, security and confidentiality of medical information, state and federal laws (HIPAA and HITECH) apply. In some states, state laws are stricter than federal provisions, particularly for behavioral health. Licensing and credentialing are also important and can be a huge challenge when conducting telehealth sessions across state lines.
Liability insurance is critical and can be complex when it comes to telehealth and must be reviewed carefully to determine if the services provided are covered under medical malpractice should a claim arise.
This is a fluid and dynamic trend in the healthcare industry. We will continue to keep you updated as increasingly more medical facilities offer telemedicine for behavioral healthcare services and the impact on liability and insurance. For more information about our liability solutions for medical facilities, please give us a call at 877.226.1027.
Sources: HRSA, Forbes, American Telemedicine Association