Northwell Health on Thursday will be opening an Emergency Telepsychiatry Hub that provides remote, around-the-clock consultations for mental health patients in crisis coming to the health system’s emergency departments (ED) throughout New York City, Long Island and Westchester County.
Telepsychiatry is an innovative, secure, online videoconferencing platform that connects patients with psychiatrists where and when they need them most. Located at Northwell’s Lenox Health Greenwich Village in Manhattan, the new 770-square-foot telepsychiatry center features nine video-equipped workstations staffed by members of a 35-employee team that includes 23 psychiatrists and nine master’s-level behavioral health clinicians.
Having this telehealth resource in place has already resulted in a 90 percent decrease in wait times for ED patients who need to see a psychiatrist – to an average of 45 minutes. The need for telepsychiatry services is especially great in the evenings and early-morning hours when psychiatry staff at most hospitals have gone home.
Since Northwell began using telepsychiatry several years ago, the health system has performed approximately 11,000 remote consultations from its EDs, including 3,800 in 2018 – more than any other health system in the region. With the new Emergency Telepsychiatry Hub, the program is projected to handle 5,000 consultations this year. The program also provides transfer and admitting services, resulting in expedited access to inpatient psychiatry beds and reducing the number of patients being held in emergency departments.
“At a time when the American health care system is facing a shortage of psychiatrists and mental health services, telepsychiatry underscores Northwell’s commitment to increasing access to care and improving outcomes for our patients,” said Jonathan Merson, MD, medical director of Northwell’s Emergency Telepsychiatry Hub Program. “It’s a technology that has no boundaries and the goal is simple: No patient experiencing a behavioral health emergency should have to wait to be seen.”
The Emergency Telepsychiatry Hub is connected to 15 Northwell-run emergency departments throughout the region. Excluded are Long Island Jewish Hospital in Queens, which already has 24/7, on-site psychiatry coverage, and Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, which will be integrated later this year. Wyckoff Heights Medical Center, a Northwell clinical affiliate, will be added on April 24.
Northwell has been at the forefront of telehealth technology and was the first health system in the New York area to offer 24-hour remote monitoring of critical-care patients in intensive care units by specialized physicians and nurses. Over the past several years, it has instituted a telestroke program where stroke neurologists are remotely consulted to access patients who are presenting with signs and symptoms of a stroke. The technology is also being used in the health system’s skilled-nursing facilities to diagnose patients remotely, reducing the need for hospitalizations. In the future, the pediatric critical care team at Cohen Children’s Medical Center will be available for telehealth consultations with children being treated at other Northwell hospitals.
“Telehealth, or virtual care, is changing the way health care is delivered,” said Martin Doerfler, MD, senior vice president of clinical strategy and development at Northwell Health. “It has the potential to improve outcomes for every patient who walks through the door.”
Noting that providers are still trying to convince the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and commercial insurers to reimburse providers for telehealth services, Northwell Health President & CEO Michael Dowling said, “Good programs like this are always ahead of the financing. Reimbursement will catch up over time once regulators and insurers recognize the cost savings and efficiencies. In the meantime, we’re doing this because it’s the right thing to do for our patients.”