Patients at Cuero Regional Hospital are now able to see a psychiatrist via telemedicine, making mental health care newly available for residents of DeWitt County.
“We kept looking at what our needs were (in DeWitt County), and we did not have adequate access to mental health care,” said Lynn Falcone, the CEO of Cuero Health.
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DeWitt County has no psychiatrists, and Falcone said she knew it would be difficult to recruit one to work at Cuero Regional Hospital.
Instead, Falcone turned to a solution that rural hospitals are increasingly using to expand access to care: telemedicine.
The hospital began a telecardiology program with Access Physicians in January, providing on-demand access to cardiologists for patients for 12 hours a day, seven days a week, said Dr. Chris Gallagher, the CEO of Access Physicians. The availability of an on-call cardiologist means patients with complex and sometimes urgent heart issues could be treated in Cuero, instead of being transferred to another hospital. The program was so popular with patients that Falcone said she looked to where telemedicine could also be useful. Mental health care was the logical next step, she said.
Previously, when physicians at the Cuero Regional Hospital encouraged patients to seek mental health care, Falcone said many patients simply went without because it was too difficult to find or travel to appointments farther away.
“Psychiatry is probably the most in-demand specialty,” Gallagher said about the telehealth services his company provides to Texas hospitals. “There’s just not enough mental health coverage across the state, but the rural areas are particularly hit hard.”
Telecardiology programs, like the one in Cuero, and inpatient and outpatient maternal and fetal medicine are also among the fastest growing services the company offers in Texas, Gallagher said.
The new program got off the ground with the help of a $5,000 grant from the health care company MultiPlan. The grant paid for a 55-inch monitor with a high-definition camera, which can be controlled by the psychiatrist treating the patient.
Two psychiatrists who work for Access Physicians in Dallas will be available by appointment for one half day every week. If demand increases, Cuero Regional Hospital can update its agreement with Access Physicians to increase hours.