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New York Eases Telehealth Rules for Mental Health Providers

Citing a severe shortage of psychiatrists, the state allows more providers to use a telepsychiatry platform to treat rural patients and those in need of emergency care.

By Eric Wicklund

- New York officials are easing telehealth regulations to enable mental health providers to treat some of their patients online.

Some 250 providers in New York will now be able to use telepsychiatry in comprehensive psychiatric emergency programs, inpatient programs and partial hospitalization programs, according to a memo from the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH).

The standards, under Article 31 of the Mental Hygiene Law, do not apply to Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) or Personalized Recovery Oriented Service (PROS) programs, officials said; those still require face-to-face interactions.

State officials said the relaxed rules address a severe shortage of mental health providers, especially for those living in rural areas or in need of emergency services.

In a video provided by the OMH, Dr. Christopher Tavella, deputy commissioner of the Division of Quality Management, said the new telepsychiatry regulations not only help patients with access issues, but enable them to get help before their behavioral health problems become more acute, and perhaps more harmful to themselves and others.

The state’s telepsychiatry legislation sets strict definitions on what can and can’t be used. The law defines the technology as two-way, real-time interactive audio and video, and prohibits the use of telephones, e-mail or FAX transmissions between provider and patient or a consult between two providers.

Tavella said the legislation also mandates that providers use a video camera that can tilt and zoom in on the patient, so that providers can see the patient’s movements and environment, picking up details that the patient might not be aware of or willing to disclose. Patients must also provider written consent for the use of telepsychiatry, he said, and both patient and provider must be in a secure location, to protect the patient’s privacy and health data.

Last year, the Westchester Medical Center Health Network became the first private health system to launch a telepsychiatry platform when its expended its behavioral healthcare offerings at Maria Fereri Children’s Hospital and Behavioral Health Center.

“In this short period of time, the practice has proven to be very beneficial to clients and our services,” Stephen Ferrando, MD, Director of Psychiatry at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and Behavioral Health Center, said in a release provided by the state. “Clients are experiencing an easier and more efficient process, appointment cancellations have decreased dramatically and our behavioral health specialists are able to provide their expert counsel to more clients.”

“Due to a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, especially in rural communities, access to psychiatric services can be difficult to find,” New York State Office of Mental Health Commissioner Dr. Ann Sullivan said in a press release, adding that they hope to expand the platform in the future. “Under these new regulations, a patient in Vestal will now be able to receive mental health services from a psychiatrist in Valhalla, with minimal wait time. Telepsychiatry is yet another tool in our expanding service package that will provide earlier and easier access to mental health services for New Yorkers.”

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