August 3, 2010 - 0 Comments

The state of Oklahoma is home to a handful of urban areas surrounded by large expanses of very rural areas. Due to this geographic layout, The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), which provides necessary services to Oklahomans who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse issues, needed a solution to provide these services to patients in rural areas.

Often, mental health and substance abuse professionals are based in more urban locations, which makes sense from a population standpoint. For patients in rural areas, though, it makes it difficult to seek the care they need. Patients often had to drive very long distances to reach the professionals who could provide appropriate services. With average incomes below $25,000, this was often very inconvenient, or impossible.

One of the steps taken to improve access to care for more Oklahomans was the implementation of video teleconferencing (VTC) solutions at the Department’s Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) across the state. Now, doctors are able to sit in front of their VTC unit and deliver behavioral health services to a patient at any of the 78 telehealth sites throughout the state.

The end result has been impressive. One CMHC, Mental Health Services of Southern Oklahoma, was able to see a staggering 180 new patients in the first three months of using their VTC units.

In addition to bringing services to rural patients, VTC has made doctors more efficient by significantly reducing the time doctors spend driving to and from the rural facilities. This has subsequently cut costs for the ODMHSAS, which would have to reimburse the doctors for their travel.

ODMHSAS has also begun partnering with other organizations to address additional behavioral healthcare needs. A partnership with Indian Health Services (IHS) allows IHS clinicians who believe their patient is exhibiting signs of depression, anxiety or another mental health need to immediately consult a behavioral health clinician from a local CMHC via video to determine if mental health services are warranted. A partnership with the Department of Veteran Affairs delivers psycho-educational training via video to veterans throughout the state. Also, judges in Oklahoma’s county courthouses can now conduct court commitment hearings via video.

By implementing VTC in their CMHCs, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services is breaking down the walls separating patients from the life-saving mental health and substance abuse services they need while simultaneously helping the state run more effectively and efficiently. How could VTC help your state?

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