By Andy Flanagan, CEO, Iris Telehealth

July 2022 – According to the CDC, approximately 146.5 million patients visit hospital emergency departments (EDs) in the United States each year. Moreover, patients seeking care in EDs for mental health conditions is growing, nearly two-fold from 2007 to 2016 alone. Hospitals and health systems are already overwhelmed, and the surge of incoming patients from the COVID-19 pandemic and mental health crisis only exacerbates their burden.

These departments don’t always have the staff or specialty care available to quickly address the need, and this staffing shortage can lead to a variety of problems including increased ED crowding, long patient wait times, delayed treatment, and expensive (and often unnecessary) inpatient stays. By leveraging telepsychiatry, EDs can improve their throughput and improve outcomes for patients, staff, and the entire healthcare organization.


On-demand psychiatric resources expedites patient care

Telepsychiatry can provide 24/7 coverage in the ED, allowing patients to access high-quality providers who can assess their needs, manage risk, and ensure proper treatment around the clock. This capability bridges the divide between critical need and timely care and reduces the amount of time patients spend in the waiting room. Because of this expediency, patient length of stay in the ED also reduces dramatically. Patients get attentive care without waiting hours for an in-person consultation from a psychiatric provider or to see an ED physician, who might not have the experience needed to treat patients with specialized behavioral health needs.

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) outlines several other significant benefits for patients utilizing telepsychiatry, including:

  • Improved access to specialty care that might not otherwise be available
  • Better outcomes due to integrated behavioral health and primary care
  • Reduction in delayed care
  • Reduction in transportation barriers, such as lack of transportation, or the need for long drives
  • Increased feelings of safety, security, and privacy

Overall, telepsychiatry helps healthcare organizations drive patient engagement while assisting patients to overcome stigmas, attend follow-up appointments, and even strengthen medication adherence.


Specialized psychiatric expertise liberates ED staff

Telepsychiatry provides relief for attending ED physicians and staff by supplying top-notch psychiatry providers who can quickly assess, treat, and disposition patients. This extra help and specialized expertise can quickly discern if a psychiatric evaluation or treatment is needed while freeing up the ED team to treat patients who come in for other medical and surgical needs.

Telepsychiatry also facilitates efficient deployment of treatment. For example, some telepsychiatry providers help attending physicians and social workers develop treatment plans to get the patient dispositioned quickly and efficiently. This approach makes it possible to start medications immediately and helps facilitate transfer to a psychiatric facility if necessary.


Telepsychiatry reduces psychiatric boarding and cuts costs

Telepsychiatry expands what hospitals and health systems can offer their patients by providing the expertise attending physicians need to properly manage patients with acute and complex mental health conditions. Telepsychiatry also offers significant financial benefits by cutting down on psychiatric boarding, which some studies estimate costs an average of $2,264 per admission. By expediting disposition, transfer, and treatment, telepsychiatry helps organizations save on these costs and increase the opportunity to treat patients in need of medical and surgical care.

Overall, the organizational benefits of incorporating telepsychiatry in the ED are substantial. Since psychiatric patients typically spend more than three times longer in the ED than nonpsychiatric patients, telepsychiatry increases throughput by allowing ED psychiatric patients to be seen faster. This expedience decreases boarding time and frees up beds – up to 2.2 daily on average – for patients in waiting rooms, improving the quality and timeliness of care for all patients. By partnering with a qualified, Joint Commission accredited telepsychiatry solution provider, healthcare organizations can simultaneously improve outcomes and financial goals.

Telepsychiatry is growing in popularity among patients. According to the APA, nearly 38% of Americans have used telehealth services to meet with a medical or mental health professional and nearly six in 10 would use telehealth services for mental healthcare. Health systems looking to reduce the stress on their ED staff would be wise to follow suit and leverage telepsychiatry services to enhance their mental health capabilities by providing patients with on-demand access to specialized care.


About the Author

Andy Flanagan is CEO of Iris Telehealth, a leading provider of telepsychiatry services for health systems and community health centers across the U.S. He is responsible for the company’s strategic direction, operational excellence, and the cultural success of the company. With significant experience in all aspects of our U.S. and global healthcare system, Andy is focused on the success of the patients and clinicians we serve to improve people’s lives. Andy has worked in some of the largest global companies and led multiple high growth businesses providing a unique perspective on the behavioral health challenges in our world. Andy holds a Master of Science in Health Informatics from the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, and a Bachelor of Science from the University of Nevada, Reno. His prior experiences include being a three-time CEO, including founding a SaaS company and holding senior-level positions at Siemens Healthcare, SAP, and Xerox. Andy’s passion for healthcare and drive to positively impact the world make him the perfect leader to regularly collaborate with corporate employees, clinicians, and healthcare organizations.

Leave a Reply