HELENA — St. Peter’s Health announced that they are the first health care system in the state of Montana to partner with Frontier OnCall to provide telepsychiatry services.
Should patients arrive in the emergency room seeking mental health care, St. Peter’s Health has medical professionals on hand to help, but if a determination is made saying the patient needs a visit with a psychiatrist, St. Pete can make a video call with their tech and connect the patient and a psychiatrist in that moment.
“This is just like a real doctor visit. Though it is on an iPad, it's truly a real doctor visit and the psychiatrist, then at that point, will be able to help either make a plan with the patient, whether the patient needs to be admitted, where best placement might be," says Kari Koehler, Senior Nursing Director of Inpatient Nursing at St. Peter’s Health.
St. Peter’s Health partnered with Frontier Psychiatry in 2021 to launch a telepsychiatry program for their mobile crisis response team and pediatric patients in the emergency room. However, St. Pete is quickly expanding this program to include all types of patients in crisis.
"When you start a new program, you like to start things a little bit smaller, pilot them, and grow,” says Koehler. “Sometimes when you go all gangbusters in, it's difficult to manage because you are still trying to work out the kinks of your brand new processes and all the links that go into that chain. So this is really a much doable pilot."
Frontier Psychiatry says they are also starting small by partnering with their first hospital to provide this all virtual service. They admit it can take months to see an in-person psychiatrist nowadays plus reaching rural community members is much easier with technology.
"Our goal is really to make psychiatric care accessible to all Montanans by 2025 and I feel strongly that the only way that can happen is if we really take advantage of all the tools in our tool box, including virtual care,” says Dr. Eric Arzubi, CEO of Frontier Psychiatry. “We're never gonna be able to hire enough psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners to plop them down in each community and make that available. That's just not gonna happen."
By May 2021, Frontier Psychiatry hopes to have expanded their staff to 13 psychiatrists and three psychiatrist nurse practitioners on call ready to provide this all virtual service.
St. Peter’s says implementing this telepsychiatry program in their mobile response team helps reduce emergency room visits and detention center admissions.