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Children in Crisis: Addressing the Gaps in Mental Healthcare

August 25, 2016 Kerry Best Healthcare 980

Children in Crisis: Addressing the Gaps in Mental Healthcare

It may be difficult to truly grasp the significance of emotional, behavioral and developmental disorders in our nation’s children and adolescents and the massive shortage in psychiatric care available for them. If you look at the numbers, even at the lowest estimations, the state of Texas alone, for example, has 1 Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist (CAP) for every 16,000 children and adolescents with at least one disturbance. Add the fact that there’s 1 CAP for every 4000 with a significant impairment, and it’s easy to see the magnitude of the shortage.

A recent article in Time magazine, highlights the crisis and the fact that telemental health is one significant element in the solution. One adolescent patient in rural Kentucky, for example, was able to receive care from a doctor over 250 miles away – instead of waiting months for an appointment locally. “It helped me put a jumbled-up mess into perspective,” she says. “The therapy put everything everywhere I needed it to be in my life. I’m getting active, I talk to more people, I’m making more friends.”

Of course, increases in funding for clinics and the number of psychiatric beds available and loan-forgiveness programs that encourage child psychiatry as a profession are badly needed, but telehealth has the most potential for enormous impact and to expedite closing the gaps in care.

Recently, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican from Pennsylvania and a child psychologist himself, introduced the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, which included funding for collaborative telemental health programs. “We need three times as many psychiatrists as we have,” says Dr. Gregory Fritz, Rhode Island-based child and adolescent psychiatrist and president of the AACAP.

Telemental healthcare is nothing new and gaining traction across the country in various forms – from treating patients with drug addiction to Alzheimer’s, the field of telehealth has recently experienced some exciting breakthroughs in both adoption and legislation, making it a more favorable delivery mechanism than ever before. Reaching at-risk populations, such as veterans, rural teens and entire states through statewide networks, telemental health is proving to be the answer – the South Carolina Department of Mental Health is just one example.

One bright spot, too, is the number of grant funding opportunities that exist to help providers create or expand telehealth programs. The US Department of Health and Human Services and the US Department of Agriculture are two prominent agencies offering programs and services to address gaps in care, especially for rural communities. These grants are funding the telehealth programs that will help providers across the country reach the most vulnerable patients to provide care at the time when they most need it.

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