Ambulatory Care Services’ Pediatric Telepsychiatry Program won an Innovation Award at Harris Health’s Fifth Annual Innovation Summit.
“We’re thrilled to receive the Innovation Award,” says Jenny Mondragon, operations coordinator, Ambulatory Care Services. “The implementation of pediatric telepsychiatry services at Harris Health has truly made a difference for our pediatric patients and their families who visit our amazing school-based clinics. Thanks to the support from all the teams involved, this project will continue to thrive.”
Through the Mental Health Expanded Access Program, Harris Health offers telepsychiatry services to children at A.C. Taylor and Goose Creek school-based health clinics. The Harris County Hospital District Foundation awarded Harris Health a two-year grant for the service to be established in areas with limited access to psychiatric care.
These children, who often face barriers receiving psychiatric care due to distance and lack of transportation, can now be seen and prescribed medicine electronically. The program’s goal is to ensure quality of care, increase patient satisfaction and expand access to licensed psychiatrists. Under a separate grant awarded to Baylor College of Medicine by the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, telepsychiatry services are also offered at Sheldon Health Clinic to children who were victims of Hurricane Harvey.
“This program allows access to patients who normally wouldn’t be seen,” says Dr. Anh Truong, child psychiatrist, Harris Health, and assistant professor, Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine.
While some patients suffer from anxiety and depression, most patients have diagnoses of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to a 2016 CDC study, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood—nearly 6.1 million are diagnosed. Additionally, two out of three have at least one other mental, emotional or behavioral disorder.
“Telepsychiatry expansion seeks to create new access points to behavioral health services for Harris County children and adolescents,” Mondragon says.
A 2016 Community Health Needs Assessment conducted by Harris Health identified behavioral health a leading cause of hospitalization for children ages 10-14 and found psychiatric services for Houston’s children inadequate.
On average, Anh sees six patients a day through video conferencing. “Patients may not come to us because of limitations, but telepsychiatry gives us the same clinical outcomes as a face-to-face visit,” she says.
During a telepsychiatry session, Truong initiates a consult with a patient located at the clinic. She communicates with them remotely through a tablet or a webcam in her office at Gulfgate Health Center. First-time patients are seen with parents or a legal guardian to gather history, but follow-ups can be done unaccompanied. Throughout the session, a medical assistant is always present on the patient’s end to ensure patient safety and facilitate the consult.
“Telepsychiatry is the new way to go for areas where someone can’t find psychiatric care otherwise,” says Dr. Asim Shah, chief, Psychiatry, Ben Taub Hospital, and executive vice chair, Department of Psychiatry, Baylor College of Medicine. “My hope is to continue this program and explore more areas where care is needed at distant locations.”