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Telemedicine for Mental Health Emergencies Linked to Reduced Costs, Increased Access

November 14, 2016

Telemedicine appears to be timely and effective for linking pediatric patients with real-time consultations during mental health emergencies in distant emergency departments (ED) or urgent care sites, according to a recent study.

“In many communities, ED/urgent care sites are considered the primary behavioral health provider for many of these children,” Alison Brent, MD, medical director, and John F Thomas, PhD, director of telemedicine, both of Children’s Hospital Colorado, wrote in their study. “Since most ED/urgent care sites are not staffed with mental health specialists, the utilization of telemedicine appears to be a timely and effective mechanism for linking real-time consultation for pediatric patients with mental health emergencies in distant ED/urgent care sites with psychiatric emergency services and mental health specialists.”

To assess the impact of telemedicine on quality of care for mental health emergencies in pediatric ED cases, researchers conducted a retrospective chart review of 504 individuals ages 18 years or younger who presented to five ED or urgent care sites with mental health emergencies between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2015. Upon visit completion, patients and providers were given a survey to evaluate overall satisfaction with telemedicine.

Researchers concluded that telemedicine evaluation for mental health emergencies showed statistically improved time to disposition. Approximately 52% of patients who were evaluated with telemedicine were discharged from the remote sites directly home and were given scheduled outpatient care follow-ups. The overall patient and provider telemedicine satisfaction score for highly to extremely satisfied was 97%.

According to the study results, the cost savings for telemedicine were significant.

“This modality appears to have the potential to improve timely access to critically important mental health specialists, while improving provider satisfaction, system capacities and reducing costs,” Dr Brent and Dr Thomas concluded. “Telemedicine utilization in the pediatric ED/urgent care setting may represent the optimal system for mental health emergency evaluation in the future.”




Brent A, Thomas J. The Clinical Utility of Telemedicine in Pediatric Mental Health Emergencies in the ED/UC Setting [ABSTRACT 1] Presented at:  AAP National Conference and Exhibition; October 21-25, 2016; San Francisco.


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