Improving Behavioral Health Access & Integration Using Telehealth & Teleconsultation: A Health Care System for the 21st Century

Individuals with medical and behavioral health comorbidities often receive fragmented care, resulting in higher costs and poorer outcomes. States, the federal government, and providers have all made significant investments to build and expand evidence-based integration models, such as the collaborative care model, to reduce fragmentation and improve care. However, workforce shortages and limited resources may hinder the feasibility of these models, particularly in rural areas. Emerging evidence demon­strates that telehealth services and provider teleconsultation may be viable alternatives for individuals that are willing to participate and can deliver equal or better care when compared to tradition­al in-person care for individuals with behavioral health needs. While telehealth is often framed as a way to improve access in rural settings, patients in urban settings may also benefit.

While some individuals may prefer to continue to receive traditional in-person care, telehealth and teleconsultation offer opportunities for states to increase patient choice and expand the scope of services individuals can receive at their usual care site—including primary care clinics, mental health centers, and correctional facilities. These programs may also build the primary care systems’ capacity to treat mild-to-moderate behavioral health conditions. More research is necessary to understand the full effect on service utilization and healthcare costs, but early findings demonstrate that telehealth and teleconsultation pro­grams for behavioral health services may reduce state spending or produce overall cost savings.

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