North Carolina has invested $4 million over two years in a telepsychiatry program that will link hospital emergency departments (EDs) to mental health professionals who can initiate treatment for ED 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 statewide program will begin in January 2014 and will be overseen by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary (DHHS) Office of Rural Health and Community Care.
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.
The East Carolina University (ECU) Center for Telepsychiatry will develop a provider network and establish the needed technology infrastructure and guidelines for administering the program. An advisory group will work with the Statewide Telepsychiatry Program to promote collaboration among partners.
"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," Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement when he announced the plan along with N.C. DHHS secretary Aldona Wos, M.D. "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," said McCrory.
"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," added Wos. "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."
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