New Telepsychiatry Program Enhances Access to Behavioral Health Care in Northwestern Illinois

The initiative is funded by the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council (MCHC), which received a grant from The Partnership for a Connected Illinois to launch a telepsychiatry program in the area which is critically underserved by behavioral health specialists. More than 70 percent of rural, medically underserved counties in Illinois do not have a psychiatrist, according to a report from the National Center for Rural Health Professions at the University of Illinois at Rockford and Project Export.

“By leveraging technology and medical expertise, this pilot program is providing patients with access to behavioral health care in an area where it would otherwise be hard to come by,” said Dr. Michael Wahl, Medical Director of MCHC. “Telepsychiatry allows us to enhance the quality and efficiency of care for some of our community’s most vulnerable members.”

InSight Telepsychiatry was chosen to provide clinical and technological support for the program. As part of the pilot, InSight telepsychiatrists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to work with emergency department (ED) staff at Midwest Medical Center and FHN to evaluate the behavioral health needs of patients and help to determine the appropriate disposition and treatment. The InSight telepsychiatrists who are serving Illinois facilities are licensed in Illinois and thoroughly oriented to the communities they are working in.

“I’ve seen consumers who have, before telepsychiatry, had to wait days to see an in-person psychiatrist. It is powerful to be able to give these individuals a psychiatric evaluation within about an hour of a request,” said Dr. Jim Varrell, Medical Director at InSight Telepsychiatry. “It means the consumer can get the appropriate treatment more quickly and the ED can improve their patient flow. Technology is just a modern-day medium for accessing specialist care.”

Telepsychiatry allows for unprecedented access to specialists like child and adolescent psychiatrists and substance abuse specialists. These specialist services can be used in other settings beyond the ED including outpatient facilities, residential programs, psychiatric crisis centers, primary care offices and correctional facilities. The pilot program will run through May 31 and the participating hospitals will have the opportunity to continue the service after the pilot is completed.