Finding Hope


FINDING HOPE: 'Telepsychiatry' filling in shortage of providers in Idaho

FINDING HOPE: 'Telepsychiatry' filling in shortage of providers in Idaho
Posted at 2:27 PM, Jun 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-18 12:48:28-04

OROFINO — Technology makes it easy to check in with your friends, and it's also making it easier to check in with your doctors and seek mental health services.

"The no-show rare for telepsychiatry is lower than it is for the in-person visits," said Dr. Kelly McGrath, chief medical officer of Clearwater Valley Hospital System.

Like every other state in America, Idaho has a shortage of psychiatrists, heavily affecting areas like north-central Idaho, where there are only nine clinics in a three-hour radius.

"We're very dispersed population, we have low resources, particularly for specialty services," said McGrath.

Clearwater Valley Hospital is at the forefront of these telehealth services, adopting telepsychiatry nearly 10 years ago. Every year, they see more patients and success rates.

"It substantially reduced their utilization in the Emergency Department and actually the clinic," said McGrath.

So how does it work? Patients can check in at their primary care office and visit with a specialty provider virtually. It costs about the same as a regular doctor's visit.

"You can get therapy over an appropriate system; you can also see a psychiatrist theoretically over a system, the trouble-shortage is we have a shortage in telepsychiatry as well, but it's a place to start," said Dr. Ron Larsen, medical director of Optum Idaho .

McGrath said it's been crucial for children's psychiatry appointments because it provides access without the six-hour car ride. Not every hospital system in Idaho has these services available, but McGrath says he expects it to continue to expand.

"We have problems with access in our state, and...the technology is there and we can implement solutions right away," said McGrath.

Both St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus have telehealth services available for their patients.

To combat the shortage, Idaho is also educating more psychiatrists through residency programs. Starting in 2021, there will be a 4-year psychiatry training program through Optum.