August 19, 2019
NORTON, Kan. – In an effort to further support rural primary care and extend specialty resources across Kansas, The University of Kansas Health System’s Care Collaborative has established an outpatient telebehavioral health network. Norton County Hospital is one of 10 participating sites in the network, and telebehavioral health services will be provided through Norton Medical Clinic beginning late August 2019.
These new services allow local patients to come into the clinic for an appointment as they normally would for primary care purposes. Within a private patient room in the clinic, they would be able to see a Kansas City-based licensed clinical psychologist over a secure videoconference.
The psychologist can assess and treat a wide range of behavioral health concerns in patients, such as coping with depression and anxiety symptoms associated with a chronic illness, grief with the loss of a loved one, and life-threatening diagnoses, as examples. Broader behavioral health services may include healthy lifestyle interventions, support with complex medical regimens, pain management and help with substance use disorders. Services for emergent, crisis situations and high-acuity, severe, persistent mental illness are outside of this scope, but individuals with these needs would still be referred as necessary to an appropriate mental health center.
The need for behavioral health services in a primary clinic setting is backed by a wealth of data. According to the 2018 Mental Health America report, Kansas ranks 32nd in the nation for access to behavioral health services. More than 53 percent of Kansas adults with mental illness do not receive treatment, according to a Kansas Health Institute report.
Screening for behavioral health needs, such as depression, is an important first step to determining patient treatment. This is why depression screening is now part of a standard visit process for patients at Norton Medical Clinic. However, research has shown that while screenings are useful in increasing recognition of an issue, the screening alone does not consider the subsequent care needed.
Gina Frack, Norton County Hospital CEO, said that the depression screenings currently in place take a bit more time for the patients, their families and clinic staff, but this procedure may be helpful in saving lives.
“A screening helps the health care team identify when a patient may need additional support for his or her mental and spiritual well-being,” Frack said. “We then need to help patients get connected with those resources preferably as soon as possible.”
Now that the telebehavioral health services are added, more follow through will occur for care and treatment.
“The benefits of having telebehavioral health services at Norton Medical Clinic are numerous,” Frack said. “Services will benefit patients, many of whom may not have immediate access to a behavioral health specialist when they need it. Further, we will be able to provide these services in close proximity to home for patients in a place where they typically receive care – the rural health clinic. This reduces any stigma or privacy concerns over seeking behavioral health care.”
Frack added that a main benefit for Norton Medical Clinic and its primary care providers is the enhanced coordination. The clinic providers would be able to work with the psychologist in determining the best treatment for a patient.
Historically, traditional medicine has treated the physical needs and ailments separately from the mind. Sometimes health care forgets that “the head is connected to the body,” Frack said, and the clinic providers are on board with new ways to treat the entire person. Evidence shows that doing so can improve patients’ overall quality of life, both physically and emotionally.
The outpatient telebehavioral health network was made possible by a 3-year award from the Health Resources and Services Administration, and Frack said Norton County Hospital and Norton Medical Clinic are proud to be part of the program and thankful to The University of Kansas Health System for the opportunity.
To take part in telebehavioral health, patients must see their primary care provider at Norton Medical Clinic first, so the provider can refer the patient for these services. Then an appointment will be scheduled with the psychologist. Adult behavioral health care is the initial focus with this grant-funded project.
“It is our hope that we will see patients embrace and benefit from these new services provided locally,” Frack said. “Also, it is our hope that these services and the method in which they are provided will only become better so that more people of all ages can benefit from this care model. We know from statistics and the community’s input on surveys from prior Community Health Needs Assessments that behavioral health has consistently been in the top four health issues impacting our county and communities. It is imperative we move forward collaboratively to address this growing need to improve quality of life and increase the quantity of years of our friends and families.”
Telebehavioral health is covered by most insurances. If a patient does not have insurance, The University of Kansas Health System offers discounted rates to support a patient’s decision to receive treatment. Uninsured patients may also work with one of the health system’s financial advisors to explore additional options.
For more information, contact Norton Medical Clinic at 785-877-3305.