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Telemedicine Helps Link Children, Mental Health Specialists in ER Cases

A study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual meeting finds that smaller and rural providers can use telemedicine to treat children, often avoiding costly transfers.

- Telemedicine access to mental health experts can significantly improve outcomes for pediatric cases in an ER or urgent care clinic, a new study has found.

In a report presented at the recent American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference and Exhibition in San Francisco, Alison Brent, MD, medical director of Children’s Hospital Colorado, says more than half of the emergency pediatric mental health cases studied were discharged with a scheduled outpatient follow-up. And in almost all cases, both provider and patient said they were highly or extremely satisfied with the care they received.

The report adds to the growing evidence base that telemedicine can not only improve patient care and outcomes in rural locations, but enable smaller hospitals and clinics to keep more of their patients and reduce costly transfers and unnecessary hospitalizations.

Brent studied 504 cases of individuals aged 18 or younger admitted to one of five ED or urgent care locations with a mental health emergency. She notes that one in five children involved in an emergency care situation needs psychiatric services, yet many EDs and urgent care sites don’t have those specialists on staff.

“Pediatric emergency department and urgent care sites are vital for initial stabilization of patients with [mental health emergencies] in conjunction with evaluation and ultimate disposition by pediatric trained [specialists],” she wrote in her report, which was reprinted in Healio’s Psychiatric Annals. “A system that provides safe and timely evaluation … is challenging from a resource perspective, especially when patients present at a site distant from mental health specialists.”

Brent points out that in smaller and rural communities, the local hospital or care clinic might be the only point of contact for children and their families. But those providers don’t often have the resources necessary to treat children with psychiatric issues. A telemedicine link to a specialist would give them that access and allow them to treat more patients rather than transferring them to another health system.

“(T)he utilization of telemedicine appears to be a timely and effective mechanism” to help smaller and rural providers treat patients with mental health issues, Brent concludes. “This [has] the potential to improve timely access to critically important [mental health resources], while improving provider satisfaction, system capacities and reducing costs.”

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