Telepsychiatry Provides Mental Health Care When and Where Patients Need It

By Sy Atezaz Saeed, MD, MS, FACPsych
ABT Advisory Council Member

Professor and Chair, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at Brody School of Medicine; Director, Center for Telepsychiatry and e-Behavioral Health; and
Executive Director, North Carolina Statewide Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP), East Carolina University, Greenville, NC

The state of North Carolina, where I practice and teach psychiatry at East Carolina University, re-envisioned its psychiatry services in 2011-12 to provide better access to evidence-based care to residents who needed mental health care but did not have access to it. In 2012, 162,000 people who needed mental health services headed to the emergency department (ED). This was 10 percent of the people who sought services in North Carolina EDs, twice the national average at 5 percent.

To address this situation and at the request of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, I led a statewide coalition of mental health professionals, health care providers and medical societies to develop a solution that met the behavioral health needs of our residents. Over a one-year period, we developed a telepsychiatry program funded by state legislatures; today, that program covers 60 hospitals throughout North Carolina.

The NC State Telepsychiatry Program (NC-STeP) serves the entire state. It is especially focused on the 90 counties in North Carolina classified as Mental Health Shortage Areas. Plus, it serves other counties that don’t meet this designation but also face a shortage of mental health professionals.

Our multi-disciplinary and multi-stakeholder program thrives on coordination of care – not competition – with physicians or EDs. We exist to help hospitals without a staff psychiatrist, and to serve patients in crisis. Now in its eighth year, NC-STeP resides at East Carolina University and operates throughout the state.

The program helps mental health patients avoid hospital stays based on access to psychiatric care when and where they need it. Through assessments, proper medication and/or ongoing access to psychiatric care, these patients become informed patients that move forward in their lives.

During my career, I’ve studied many Greek philosophers and incorporated into my work the advice of Aristotle who said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Providing the right treatment to the right patient through evidence-based practice permeates my work as the common thread that ties everything together through telemedicine.

That same consistency of purpose and focus on evidence-based principles constitutes the CORE Concepts inTelehealth Certificate Program from the American Board of Telehealth (ABT). As a member of ABT’s Advisory Council, I know the education and training offered for clinicians and administrators addresses how knowledge grows and science evolves in telemedicine.

Learn more about ABT’s Telehealth Certificate Program.

Watch for updates on new courses from ABT including the Telebehavioral Health Certificate Course that is now live and open for registration.