Telemedicine helps AMHC serve patients during pandemic
CARIBOU, Maine — While community health clinics across the U.S. have report a 43 percent drop in the number of client visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, Aroostook Mental Health Services has ramped up the use of technology and increased the number of client visits by 20 percent.
AMHC officials cited a recent article in which the chief psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente stated that over 90 percent of mental health visits in the U.S. are now happening virtually, which is a change for many practices.
However, AMHC was already an early adopter of telehealth and were able to quickly expand their existing practice. While continuing to offer in-clinic appointments, telepsychiatry offers mental health services directly to the client through HIPAA-compliant video conferencing or telephone calls.
AMHC recognized the potential of telepsychiatry to solve mental health challenges years ago and found it ideally suited to serve the people of Aroostook, Hancock and Washington counties in Northern and Downeast Maine.
Telepsychiatry helps solve a critical shortage of providers, especially in rural areas. Using technology, a provider can see clients anywhere there is a viable internet connection.
AMHC partners with Iris Telehealth, a telepsychiatry group, to provide psychiatrists. This has allowed AMHC to provide medication management services for adults and children.
“It’s been an honor to work alongside AMHC over the past three years,” said Dr. Tarik Shaheen, CEO at Iris Telehealth. “Their deep commitment to patient care and the ability to adapt quickly during COVID-19 sets a wonderful example for other community health organizations in the northeast and the rest of the U.S.”
Recent events have encouraged many clients who previously came to AMHC in-person to use telehealth services. The clinics provide psychiatric evaluations, teletherapy — individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy — client education, and medication management, directly to the client who remains at home.
“AMHC appreciates its partnership with Iris Telehealth to provide psychiatrists for our clients who require medication management services,” said Ellen Bemis, AMHC CEO.
“It can be a challenge to recruit psychiatrists to rural areas such as ours. By offering the service remotely we help ensure our community members receive the support they need. Iris Telehealth has been an important part of our ability to adapt quickly to the changes that occurred with the pandemic,” Bemis said.
Many clients, particularly the elderly and those at high risk, appreciate the convenience of seeing their provider from the comfort of home. Providers report there are fewer cancellations now that travel is not required.
In a recent survey, 45 percent of respondents said events related to the coronavirus have affected their mental health. In response to the need for increased services, AMHC added 80 new Zoom accounts to boost their virtual service capacity and provide same-day access when needed.
A report from Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, suggests that stress from COVID-19 may cause increased ‘diseases of despair’, including suicides and addiction. AMHC believes these issues are treatable and telepsychiatry can connect people with the care they need.