What is the “ripple effect?” According to Katie O’Toole, reporting for WJAC TV, mental health patients in that region of Pennsylvania have limited access to adequate care, according to Cambria County hospital administrators. In 2015, Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, suspended all child psychiatry admissions and capped generic admissions to ten patients after the hospital lost two psychiatrists to staff attrition.
The article acknowledges, through the hospital, that telepsychiatry is helping Conemaugh and its personnel to cope with the shortage of providers, but the larger “ripple effect” is still an issue. The closure of state hospitals in the 1950s, widely known as “de-institutionalization,” resulted in a dramatic reduction of in-patient beds in the United States. This, coupled with an increase in United States population, has exacerbated an already existing problem that is further worsened by “co-curing drug use” — a particular issue in the Johnstown area.
“They went from about 550,000 in-patient beds in the United States to now having around 100,000,” O’Toole reports, quoting a hospital administrator, “so there’s been a dramatic decrease along with a dramatic increase in the population in the United States.” O’Toole goes on to say that many local patients who need care simply care cannot get it. Factors affecting local patients are difficult to correct because much of it comes down to funding, and until more is available, the ripple effect — greater need among a greater population that has fewer resources to deal with the problem — is expected to continue.
The surest way to combat this problem is advocacy of, and removal of regulatory and bureaucratic obstacles to, telepsychiatry. With trained professionals in short supply and many individuals, couples, and families living in mental healthcare shortage areas, providers must be able to treat more people in less time and reach populations that were previously inaccessible. Using secure, regulation-compliant telemedicine and video teleconferencing is one of the few truly effective ways to do this. As the concept, the technology, and the practice becomes more accepted among the population at large, telepsychiatry will continue to help get needed care to those who require it. This will require our constant support and encouragement as figures within the industry, but it’s a goal worth fighting for. The result is nothing less than improved care for the American population, a goal that drives everything we do.