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North Carolina Commits $4M for Telepsychiatry

August 20, 2013

Video conferencing technology is used effectively in the business world to collaborate with co-workers or conduct meetings without geographical limitations. This technology is also used in the legal system and healthcare profession to offer services to underserved communities. North Carolina has passed legislation to expand the ability of healthcare professionals to make long-distance evaluation in emergency rooms for patients suffering from drug overdose and mental issues.

The decision to expand emergency psychiatric medicine by video conferencing was announced by Gov. Pat McCrory with an additional $4 million over the next two years to provide mental health services in rural areas.

The lack of psychiatric care in rural and disadvantaged areas around the country is responsible for patients living with wrong diagnosis and oftentimes suffering needlessly from a condition that can be treated with proper medication. This technology allows doctors and other professionals to hear and view patients in a remote emergency room to make a quick and accurate assessment in order to start the right form of therapy. The technology is Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)-compliant and all patient data is protected.

A three-year experiment with 14 community hospitals in eastern North Carolina and East Carolina University medical school are connected with this program. An additional two dozen hospitals in remote locations are waiting to be part of the program so they can provide patients in their communities with experts in the field of psychiatry.

Psychiatrists across state are available to consult with remote hospitals if a doctor is not available to diagnose the patient. Patients needing psychiatric help are often placed in the penal system because adequate diagnostic measures are not in place in emergency rooms or jails. This program will reduce the number of mentally ill patients being unjustly incarcerated just for being sick.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the pilot program has made more than 4000 psychiatric assessment of emergency department patients. This has resulted in more patients getting psychiatric treatment while they are waiting to be admitted in the hospital or referred to another service provider.

While close to 100 hospitals in North Carolina have some psychiatric coverage for emergency departments, 58 of those hospitals don't have the number of mental health professionals to meet the needs of their communities.

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