How a Rural Region of Minnesota Improves Access to Behavioral Care using Telehealth

February 20, 2017
  by Blog Team
Arrowhead Health Alliance

It’s clear that our mental and emotional well-being is directly connected to our physical health. In recent years, the conversation around mental healthcare awareness has been fortunately growing, because increasing good health and well-being for everyone is directly related to reducing inequalities – and one way to do that is through collaborative tools like telemedicine.

We are proud to call the Arrowhead Health Alliance a Vidyo customer, who in December accepted a trophy at the Local Government Innovation Award ceremony at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. The alliance has been praised for their efforts to provide better access to behavioral healthcare, through regionwide collaboration, to innovate person-centered care linked together with high-quality video.

In a compelling LinkedIn post this past June, titled “Redefining Mental Health for a 21st Century World”, Kaiser Permanente CEO Bernard J. Tyson outlined a future in which “everyone deserves a healthcare system that seeks to understand and help us with any emotional or mental health concerns we have.” At Vidyo, we recently surveyed a selection of our healthcare customers, and found that 74% of respondents are using video for telepsychiatry, out of 64% who said that specialist care is their primary use case for video collaboration. According to Tyson, this vision for a “connected health” system was the talk of the healthcare industry in 2016. It’s a proactive, transparent and intelligent approach that aligns with our vision for telehealth across the continuum of care for all patient populations.

Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region encompasses roughly 20,000 square miles of predominantly rural landscapes. The Arrowhead Health Alliance, in collaboration with the Arrowhead Telepresence Coalition (a collaboration of over 30 public and private agencies), is using the power of collaborative telehealth to combat a major challenge in their region – very large and growing mental health issues among their population, combined with a shortage of mental health services, including licensed social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. For these reasons, they’ve turned to Vidyo in order to do more for behavior health with limited resources.

Initially, the use of telehealth technology in Minnesota was primarily inside individual organizations such as state-run hospitals and private hospitals. Arrowhead is the first community-based regional partner to be working with the Minnesota Department of Human Services to deliver mental healthcare, using telehealth, to patient populations throughout the region.

For therapists, video is increasing their productivity. “Using Vidyo, a smaller number of highly qualified therapists can see a larger amount of visitors in a given day, wherever they happen to be, without wasting resources on unnecessary disruptions or sacrificing any of the quality of the care, which is our highest priority,” said Arrowhead Health Alliance Director Ric Schaefer.

Scaling a telehealth solution to support a dispersed geography and population as large as the Arrowhead region has proven challenging for many telepresence solutions, but Arrowhead is using Vidyo’s core capability to scale – like the Internet itself – to make their behavioral healthcare more connected. “By having one unified platform, we can link the community mental health centers, schools, other providers, counties, tribes and state officials – a lot of our different sites are easily connected,” said Dave Lee, Director, Carlton County Health and Human Services.

According to Tyson, we need to increase the level of discussion around mental health issues and their prevention, and break down the stigma associated with mental health, while addressing the shortage of mental health professionals. These are big goals, and telehealth is emerging as a tool that “just works” to create clinical efficiency across the entire continuum of care for all patient populations. Care providers, like UMass Memorial, are proving that telemedicine is making our healthcare system more sustainable – as the shifting economic paradigm in healthcare is causing systems to take digital transformation seriously in 2017.

For the Arrowhead region, telehealth is being used to maximize access to resources, enhance integration, coordinate care and deliver person-centered services – with the ultimate goal of improving population health in northeastern Minnesota.

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