Telepsychiatry Trends to Expect in 2019

As healthcare closes the book on 2018, here are trends and changes the industry can expect to see on the telepsychiatry front in 2019.

The upward growth trajectory and expanded reach of telepsychiatry models remain strong. As telemedicine continues to open new doors to access in healthcare, a bird’s eye view of current trends suggests that behavioral health is the healthcare sector that has experienced the most positive impact. The telepsychiatry market is beginning to mature and industry leaders are emerging and continuously raising the bar.

Telepsychiatry plays a crucial role in not only improving the outlook on severe psychiatric professional shortages, but also in aligning with consumer expectations and the evolving demands of value-based care. As healthcare closes the book on 2018, here are trends and changes the industry can expect to see on the telepsychiatry front in 2019.

New Policies Expand the Reach of Telepsychiatry for Opioid Use Disorder

Telepsychiatry has the potential to help address one of the nation’s most significant crises: opioid use disorder. However, policy changes are needed first. In 2019, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is expected to establish special registration for telemedicine, as required by the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act of 2018.

The prescribing of controlled substances is necessary for a common treatment of opioid use disorder: medication assisted treatment (MAT). However, current federal regulation—the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act of 2008—limits the prescribing of controlled substances via telemedicine. By creating the long-awaited special registration for telemedicine in 2019, the DEA will help open doors for the appropriate prescribing of controlled substances via telemedicine, and thus allow for telepsychiatry to help address the opioid epidemic.

Additionally, another impactful way the special registration for telemedicine would improve access to needed care is with child and adolescent psychiatry—a discipline where certain controlled substances are the preferred treatment for common disorders such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

New Policies Expand the Reach of Telepsychiatry for Medicare Populations

Another exciting policy development for telemental health is the Mental Health Telemedicine Expansion Act that was introduced this year, which, if enacted in 2019, would have a significant impact on America’s aging population. The bill would eliminate the originating site requirement for Medicare reimbursement for telemental health services. Currently, there are 8 originating site requirements for Medicare reimbursement, including provider offices, hospitals, critical access hospitals, rural health clinics, federally qualified health centers, skilled nursing facilities, community mental health centers, and hospital-based or critical access hospital-based renal dialysis centers. By eliminating this requirement, Medicare beneficiaries would be able to be reimbursed for telemental health services they receive in their home and other settings.

Growth of Telepsychiatry in Collaborative Care Models

In recent years, the use of team-based approaches like the IMPACT model have proven successful for a wide range of behavioral health conditions. Telepsychiatry helps advance the use of these models by removing the need for care teams to colocate. Providers can conveniently interact and seamlessly deliver care via televideo.

Payers are particularly invested in the expanded use of collaborative care models and are increasingly looking for creative ways to partner with telepsychiatry providers or practices leveraging telepsychiatry to achieve the greatest value in care. With the recent addition of collaborative care codes for reimbursement, providers will also be encouraged to incorporate more team-based treatments into care.

Greater Employer Adoption of Direct-to-Consumer Telepsychiatry

The advantages of telehealth are not lost on today’s employers. In fact, most large companies offer some form of telehealth benefit. But the reality is that telehealth offerings are only impactful when they are used. To improve utilization of telehealth benefits, 2019 will be characterized by increased employer investment in promotion and education of these options. For instance, companies will likely start adopting innovative strategies like that of Healthstat, who help large employers promote and utilize the most impactful types of health benefits.

Shift of Crisis Care to Telepsychiatry

For many communities, the emergency department (ED) has become a primary point of entry for behavioral health needs. This reality is not only costly, but it creates bottlenecks in hospitals and negatively impacts throughput and quality care.

While hospitals and health systems will continue to look toward telepsychiatry as a way to improve efficiencies within their walls, we anticipate the growth of applications that encourage preventive care using telehealth and, when needed, take crisis care outside of the ED altogether. Enabled by technology, innovative crisis response programs are emerging with crisis responders and even police officers leveraging iPads to connect directly with telepsychiatry providers while in the field. These models are truly meeting individuals where they are and reducing trips to the ED.

Increased Mergers and Acquisitions

While industry consolidation is occurring within every area of healthcare, the telemedicine space in particular will see more of this activity in 2019 due to its rapid growth and maturity. Notably, the first quarter of 2018 saw $156 billion in new deals across the healthcare industry following a record-breaking 2017 that was up 13% from the previous year.

Healthcare or telemedicine organizations engaging in mergers and acquisitions should use these opportunities to assess all areas of care delivery to identify opportunities for improvement. The best strategies will include a full evaluation of existing systems and vendors while working to ensure stability of programs during time of disruption for consistent quality care.

Focus on Telepsychiatry Outcomes Data

Telehealth gives organizations and providers a chance to raise the bar when it comes to data tracking. In 2019, the telehealth industry will see an increased focus on using technology to not only measure sessions and satisfaction but also to determine the actual outcomes of care delivered through telepsychiatry. This focus on outcomes will help healthcare organizations be better positioned for value-based care success.

Fitting Telebehavioral Health Into a Larger Strategy

Many of today’s health systems already use some form of telepsychiatry. While these strategies may have originated as more of a Band-Aid to address psychiatric professional shortages in some cases, healthcare organizations will continue to consider how to extract greater organizational value from leveraging these models in 2019 and beyond.

Providers and communities are increasingly implementing processes and systems to address whole-person care, and telepsychiatry, working in tandem with other telehealth strategies, helps advance these movements and increase access to more holistic care. In 2019, the industry will see expansion of telepsychiatry models across the continuum to promote greater connectivity and consistent, quality care.