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Telemedicine program to benefit patients with behavioral health needs

Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea has expanded its services for patients with behavioral health needs.

Through a new telemedicine program, patients who come into the emergency room are able to communicate with psychiatrists and psychologists as needed at any time of the day.

Bo Madsen, medical director of emergency medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System throughout southeast Minnesota, said many smaller hospitals aren’t able to have psychiatrists and psychologists on hand all the time, so the option for telemedicine gives patients the opportunity for access to these services without having to wait or travel.

The provider through the telemedicine technology will work with the local emergency room providers and physicians to find resolutions to concerns. Services can include assessment, treatment and placement for outpatient or inpatient behavioral health needs.

“Instead of sitting in an emergency department for potentially 72 hours … I think people appreciate that we’re doing things immediately,” Madsen said.

Tom Witt, hospital and emergency medicine physician leader for Mayo Clinic Health System’s hospitals in southeast Minnesota, said it is a challenge because mental health resources are scarce — not just locally, but statewide and nationwide.

“It’s how best to utilize a scarce resource,” he said.

He said there needs to be access to psychiatrists and psychologists in the emergency room.

“These patients are incredibly challenging,”  Witt said. “They’re all on their own journey, and we intercept with them. Our job is to try to help them wherever they’re at.”

Madsen said he saw the technology in play last weekend in Albert Lea.

“I think they like it because it’s really high quality,” Madsen said. “It’s not some grainy screen. You can really see who you’re talking to.”

Witt said he thinks telemedicine will continue to play an increasing role as Mayo Clinic Health System seeks to provide patients with the best care.

The telemedicine services are being offered by Minnesota-based network Behavioral Healthcare Partners at both the Albert Lea and Austin locations of Mayo Clinic Health System.

The services collaborate with the emergency room physician and provide on-the-spot video conference to observe and evaluate the patients. The service can provide recommended treatment options, including an inpatient bed search, further appointments scheduling, clinic documentation and a follow-up visit with the patient as needed.

Witt said he and others are also working at the state level to increase awareness and encourage additional resources and support.

“This is an advocacy issue that we need to continue to make our government officials aware of — the acute need and ongoing need,” he said. “Most families do have someone in their family who is touched by mental health issues, so it’s a widespread need.”