Increasing Access to Mental Health Care with Mobile Response Units

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Mental health crises, like any physical health crisis, can be devastating for patients and families. Sadly, the US consistently falls short when it comes to caring for mental health patients. Mental health emergencies require expert care, but often these situations are being handled by police instead of medical professionals. Mobile medical rapid response teams were designed to better handle mental health crises.

The teams are trained to identify and proactively treat patients showing signs of acute medical decompensation. Today, many hospitals employ on-site teams to help mitigate patient risk during a crisis. These mobile response teams are trained to help stabilize patients of any age who are experiencing a mental health crisis or may have a developmental disability or addiction. Hospital-based mobile response units help to triage mental health patients on arrival and perform a safety check before completing a full assessment. These teams are in place to support the ED physicians since in many cases physicians with a psychiatric specialty are not available on demand when these patients present to the ED.  

With more wide-scale implementation of these types of mobile response teams, mental health patients would be better served, while ED physicians would be better supported to appropriately treat these conditions.  

Psychiatric shortages lead to poor patient outcomes

The current psychiatric workforce today is around 45,580 physicians, and needs to increase by more than 2,500, or 6.4%, to meet demand. However, many trained psychiatrists are nearing retirement age, and if new workers don’t enter the trade, psychiatric care shortages will continue to increase at alarming rates. With these types of shortages, it becomes almost impossible to provide adequate specialty support to Emergency Room physicians who deal with these mental health crises on a daily basis.

Indeed, today’s increasing demand for mental health services is stymied by rising shortages, leading to significant treatment delays, reduced quality of care, low patient satisfaction rates, and poorer patient outcomes.

Utilizing telepsychiatry can increase access to mobile response units

Mobile medical rapid response teams are often made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and recreational therapists. Mobile rapid response teams must have a licensed and/or credentialed clinician capable of assessing the needs of individuals and should connect patients and families with facility-based care when needed.

Trained telepsychiatrists or teletherapists can help fill these roles. Much like mobile services, telepsychiatry provides mental health care to patients no matter their location. By incorporating a telebehavioral health provider into a mobile unit, more communities could have access to trained mental health professionals and better care coordination for mental health patients.

Telepsychiatrists can also help fill in the gaps if care facilities have limited on-site access to trained psychiatrists. Incorporating telepsychiatry when the in-person psychiatrist finishes their shift ensures mental health patients have access to experts no matter the time of day. Integrating telepsychiatry can also help facilitate follow-up for patients who undergo an emergency mental health assessment, ensuring continuity of care.

We are still in the midst of increasing mental health needs from the COVID-19 pandemic. America’s mental health is “worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades.” 41.1% of adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder in January of 2021. Many mental health patients still find themselves without access to the care they need though, waiting days or weeks to be admitted to a hospital. Many of these facilities were not designed to care for mental health patients, and long wait times often increase stress for patients who are already in crisis.

Expanding access to mobile health units with trained mental health professionals could increase the quality of life for many patients and families in need. Giving parents and caregivers an extra hand during hard times may be what is needed to help keep patients out of the hospital and safe at home.

MindCare’s team of dedicated mental health professionals helps patients understand the issues they face while providing them with the tools and techniques needed to feel better. From licensed clinical social workers to board-certified physicians and behavioral health professionals, our team is ready to support the growing need for telepsychiatry services.

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