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Best Practices for Expanding Telemental Health Services to Underserved Areas


Mental health care has long been a point of concern for clinicians and patients. Many agree that we do not have adequate resources to meet the mental health needs of all our patients in the U.S., and a lack of mental health services in many areas makes it hard for certain patient populations to access care. For some mental health professionals, that has sparked a desire to find ways to provide care in underserved areas. Including telemental health.

In the past, when patients couldn’t get to your clinic for an appointment that made it basically impossible to provide care. As we see the dramatic rise of telemedicine and telehealth technologies, there is also a significant opportunity for mental health professionals to expand outreach to areas where services are lacking and providers are scarce or nonexistent. If you’re thinking about expanding your mental health services, here are some best practices to get started.

Begin with the Right Foundation

One of the most important steps to take before launching your outreach is to create a foundation with the right software programs to provide telemental care through a remote video chat platform. There are a lot of options available today, but it’s important to evaluate vendors using several criteria:

  • How well established are they in the marketplace? Have they been providing software for mental health clinics for a while now or are they new to it?
  • Does the software cater to the specific type of clinic you work in, or is it designed for something else (e.g., a large hospital system) with workarounds and patches to make it “fit” your operations?
  • Does the vendor provide adequate support to get the system set up, then ongoing support to help your small clinic use the telemedicine software effectively?
  • Does the system meet HIPAA and other cybersecurity protocols to protect patient data, avoid breaches, and ensure privacy?
  • Can you integrate it with other components of your clinical care, such as scheduling, practice management software, EHRs, and medical billing?

Understand the Limitations

While there are many types of appointments that can be safely and effectively done online, it’s also important for providers to understand the limitations of technology and know when an in-person visit might be necessary. If you are planning to expand into underserved areas make sure you have a plan in place for when you encounter patients who need in-person care. That could mean helping with transportation to get to your clinic, finding a place where you can set up a temporary office space in the community, or partnering with other providers in the area to refer patients.

Know Where to Find Tools and Resources

There are also a lot of logistical questions related to telemental services. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) offers a “telepsychiatry toolkit” that has resources for training, research, legal issues, reimbursement, and more. These tools are invaluable for someone just starting out so you won’t need to reinvent the wheel.

To learn more about how our AdvancedMD software for telemental services can help you expand your reach and increase patient access, schedule a demo today.

Topic: Telemedicine

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