- Mercy Health is launching a telemedicine program to meet an urgent need for psychiatric services at emergency departments in and around Ohio’s fourth largest city.
The health system is partnering with Lighthouse Telehealth to provide round-the-clock psychiatric consults at Toledo’s three metro hospitals – St. Vincent Medical Center, St. Charles Hospital and St. Anne Hospital – as well as free-standing emergency departments in nearby Sylvania and Perrysburg. Lighthouse will also provide inpatient care at the Behavioral Health Institute on the St. Charles Hospital campus.
The deal with Lighthouse Telehealth marks a growing trend across the country. Faced with an increase in mental health and substance abuse cases coming through their emergency departments, health systems are looking to telemedicine to give physicians and nurses real-time telemental health support.
The National Alliance on Mental Health reports that almost 19 percent of the nation’s adults deals with mental illness in a given year, while almost 22 percent of youths age 13-18 face a serious mental health issue in the lifetimes. While those percentages are increasing, the numbers of mental health experts are trending in the opposite direction.
Roughly 13 percent of all ER visits require a mental health consult, according to a 2016 study published in Health Affairs. And that percentage is increasing: The American College of Emergency Physicians notes that more psychiatric cases are winding up in the ER because resources for treating them are stretched thin and more people are being diagnosed as in need of mental healthcare. Yet at the same time, the number of psychiatric beds in EDs has dropped from about 500,000 in the 1970s to 113,569 in 2010.
Without the resources on hand to treat them, hospital officials either commit them for hours, perhaps even days, until they can be evaluated or simply discharge them.
Mercy’s arrangement with Lighthouse Telehealth enables the health system to access mental health specialists at any time without boosting ED staffing or bulking up overtime costs.
"There is an ongoing shortage of medical professionals to cover the increasing demand for services in our area," John Sheehan, CEO of Harbor, an Ohio-based provider of mental health services and the parent company of Lighthouse Telehealth, said in a press release. "We believe that successful partnerships in healthcare are based on a shared vision and values that achieve the highest quality evidence-based care for patients in crisis – regardless of their ability to pay for that care.”
“This collaboration will ensure timely access at select Mercy Health facilities utilizing, as appropriate, our telepsychiatry service model,” he added.