Staff Articles

Telemedicine Meets Mental Health

For MHCGM, our Neil Armstrong moment came on April 12th, 2016, at 1:30 p.m. EST, when Psychiatric Specialist Dr. Quentin Turnbull was whisked through thousands of miles of ethernet cabling to Johannesburg, South Africa, thus beginning MHCGM’s foray into telemedicine.

“It’s something of a revelation,” says Dr. Turnbull. “It gives you the unique ability to continue to offer treatment from anywhere in the world by embracing cutting edge technology.”

Also called “Virtual Health,” telemedicine employs new telecommunication platforms to allow health care professionals to evaluation, diagnose, and treat patients without an in-person visit. In light our state’s health care challenges, technology-based solutions are more important than ever.

Like much of the U.S., New Hampshire is experiencing a health professional shortage. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration, NHhhhH has 30 primary care Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) designations and 20 mental health care HPSA designations, labor shortfalls that make it difficult to meet the health care needs of the population. Thankfully, telemedicine helps health care providers extend quality treatments to individuals otherwise unable to access services.

In terms of its effectiveness, research shows “internet-based intervention for depression is equally beneficial to regular face-to-face therapy.” Additional studies indicate that “after initiation of such services, patients’ hospitalization utilization decreased by an average of approximately 25%.”

Despite the futuristic moniker, telemedicine dates back to a 1960s partnership between NASA and the Nebraska Psychology Institute. Since then, closed circuit technology has improved dramatically, though not without regulatory and broadband infrastructure hurdles. In March of 2010, however, the Obama Administration proposed a nationwide plan “to assist in the proliferation and improvement of broadband networks across the United State … [which] calls for the build-out and improvement of medical networks that facilitate remote patient monitoring, electronic health records, and other technology-based health services such as telemedicine.”

New Hampshire regulations, too, have made strides where telemedicine is concerned. On May 10th, 2017, Senate Bill 237-FN was signed into law with bipartisan support and is now in effect. The legislation “allows medical providers who practice in metropolitan areas to be reimbursed by Medicaid for telehealth service,” expanding life-changing treatments to more individuals.

And as illustrated by HealthITOutcomes.com, the benefits of telemedicine for both health care providers and patients are numerous:

Ease and convenience: patients and providers simply need a computer, webcam, and broadband internet access.
Increased access: patients who live in remote areas, who are housebound, who have trouble lining up childcare, or just have too much going on in their lives to make room for regular therapy sessions, now have a connection to mental healthcare.
Fewer missed appointments: patients are less likely to run into problems when they can meet from wherever they are.
Reach new clients: providers who offer services virtually can expand their reach to new clients across their state, not just within their local area.

Customize care: leveraging a virtual platform, providers are able to turn their focus to how care is delivered through appropriately-timed assessments and tracking trends and progress over time.

In 2016, MCHGM purchased a license with 1DocWay, an online telemedicine platform, connecting clinicians with partnering medical providers. In the last year alone, 434 telemedicine Services were provided to 202 clients, and MHCGM is currently in the process of extending telemedicine services to The Moore Center in Manchester.