COLUMBIA — Officials say a state telepsychiatry program supported by the Duke Endowment has been used thousands of times in hospital emergency rooms since it was installed in 2009.
In an effort to meet the critical shortage of psychiatrists in South Carolina’s underserved areas, the state’s mental health agency utilizes real-time, state-of-the-art video-and-voice technology that connects qualified psychiatrists to participating hospitals throughout the state, according to the governor’s office.
These consultations have increased the quality and timeliness of assessment and initial treatment of patients, officials say, reduced the length of stay in emergency departments for many patients, and allowed participating hospitals to direct critical personnel and financial resources to other needs.
“From the very beginning, we made it clear that South Carolina had a moral responsibility to correct longstanding issues and restore the public’s confidence in the Department of Mental Health,” said Gov. Nikki Haley. “The department lacked the appropriate funding and it was clear that our citizens were needlessly suffering. With partners like Duke Endowment and cutting edge advancements like the Telepsychiatry Consultation Program, we are now delivering mental health care where it’s needed, when it’s needed, while improving overall patient care and reducing costs and that is exactly the way it should be.”
An ongoing study of the program’s impact on medical costs by the University of South Carolina School of Medicine has determined that there is an overall medical cost savings of more than $1,700 per episode of care for patients receiving treatment via telepsychiatry, according to Haley’s office. The study has also found that patients discharged following an SCDMH telepsychiatry consultation have a significantly higher rate of accessing mental health aftercare in the community, thereby reducing their risk of readmission to an emergency department.
“The program saves money, but it’s biggest benefit is that it helps patients. Not only are many patients able to leave the emergency room sooner and return to their families, but even those patients who remain hospitalized are benefiting from the treatment recommendations of an experienced psychiatrist,” said SCDMH Director John H. Magill.
Since March 29, 2009, SCDMH has completed approximately 16,800 telepsychiatry consultations with hospital emergency departments, Haley’s office said. The SCDMH Telepsychiatry Consultation Program currently provides comprehensive consultations to 18 South Carolina hospital emergency departments.
“We are proud to be part of developing this national model and bringing it to fruition,” said Minor Shaw, Chairman of the board of The Duke Endowment. “The Duke Endowment recognizes the value of new technologies that will improve lives and strengthen communities just as DMH’s telepsychiatry program does.”