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Connecting rural hospitals with behavioral health

Rural access to behavioral health services

7.7 million rural adults reported having any mental illness (AMI) – 20.5% of rural adults, according to statistics from 2020 cited on the Rural Health Information Hub. In addition, 1.8 million, or 4.8%, of adults in rural areas, reported having serious thoughts of suicide during the year.

For rural adults, finding the behavioral services they need is challenging due to a chronic shortage of rural providers. In addition, getting to the provider can be difficult because of long distances to treatment facilities. Rural patients can have trouble paying for behavioral healthcare. And, “rural residents may be more susceptible to the stigma of needing or receiving mental healthcare in small communities where everyone knows each other,” notes the Information Hub.

Emergency departments take the brunt

In general, the number of people turning to emergency departments for mental health/substance abuse services has been on the rise, but the problem is exacerbated in rural areas. According to the Rural Health Policy Research Center 14.6% of all ED visits in rural areas were for a mental health or substance abuse diagnosis. The proportion of ED patients presenting with a MH/SA diagnosis age 65 and older was higher as well.

Patients seeking behavioral health services require resource-intensive care, which demands more time from providers. So rural EDs need to find ways to optimize the way they can provide services and coordinate care teams.

How technology helps EDs with behavioral health patients

For rural providers who need to coordinate behavioral health services for patients in crisis, one answer is telehealth. In one study, telehealth was found to decrease wait times for behavioral health patients at the EDs of four Midwestern critical access hospitals.

Telehealth enables rural health systems to use video calls to extend the services of individual behavioral health providers to patients in multiple locations. The Rural Health Information Hub says “Telehealth is especially useful in rural areas because it provides a means for mental health professionals to reach more patients through technology. This combats the mental health workforce shortage problem by providing patients with access to treatment.”

In addition, modern telehealth platforms facilitate provider-to-provider consults in real time, streamlining assessments and admissions.

How a rural behavioral health system reduced response time

One Backline client, a leading rural behavioral health system, found that it needed a robust communication platform to improve patient assessment and intake, care team collaboration, and to handle secure patient data sharing across facilities.

The system had 17 inpatient facilities and 31 outpatient locations across nine states. The call center operated nationally, 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, it processed roughly 26,000 calls a month, or 900 calls a day. The number of calls the center managed slowed response time and resulted in errors when attempting to link patients with the correct provider and/or care team.

The call center now relies on Backline to coordinate professional consults and patient assessment. And the Backline platform helps manage a mobile assessment team that travels to rural ERs or other access points to evaluate patients.

The Chief Compliance Officer said “Integrating Backline for our call center communications did more than improve response time and minimize compliance risk. It streamlined clinical workflow and improved collaboration during every stage of patient care.”

About Backline

Headquartered in Indiana, Backline is the one secure messaging provider that understands the unique challenges of rural health systems. The CMO of a leading rural health system said “Because we use Backline for both inpatient and outpatient virtual visits, our patients get the care they need safely and efficiently.”

In addition to providing secure communications and telehealth, we deliver a virtual workspace that brings together providers to collaborate across units and disciplines.