Overcoming Behavioral Health Access Limitations Through Telemedicine

Podcast, Videos


In the latest episode of Impetus Digital‘s Fireside Chat, I was joined by two special guests: Dr. Phil Hirsch, PhD, Founder & Chief Executive at Synergia Integrated teleBehavioral Health, and Dr. Craig Wright, MD, Senior Physician Executive and Senior Consultant/Executive Coach at Craig Wright, MD Consulting Services. We explored a range of topics surrounding telemedicine and other digital health technologies, with a special focus on their utility as part of behavioral and mental health services.

You can see a sneak peek of our conversation below:

Q: A lot of companies have been jumping into the telehealth space since COVID-19. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes Synergia different and unique?

Phil Hirsch: There are a lot of companies jumping in more and more since the pandemic began. At Synergia, we have taken two lines of research. One is the effectiveness, satisfactoriness of telebehavioral health services. The other is behavioral health integration and its integration with primary care. There are abundant data showing that, when the primary care team and behavioral health team work together, care is delivered more efficiently. You find 60% of patients in primary care who have behavioral health needs but whose conditions have never been diagnosed or treated. You help prepare the primary care team to deliver certain behavioral health interventions, most specifically, first-line psychiatric medications. Then, we come in on referral from primary care for the more treatment-resistant or diagnostically complex patients.

We’ve taken these two lines of research and we’ve melded them together. I think of it as a medium and message arrangement. The medium is telehealth technology, video conferencing, secure transmission of patient health information, population screening online. Then, the message is evidence-based integrated care, which also includes close collaboration and communication with the primary care team and then with us. This is a model people tend to think of as something new, but it really isn’t. It’s been in the research setting for 15 or more years. It’s now out in the world of day-to-day practice and the integration portion is a model that’s endorsed by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, by the patient-centered Primary Care Collaborative, and quite a few other professional associations.

What we kept running into, when we talked with rural, relatively small primary care clinics, they would say, “Sounds great! Where are our psychiatrists?” Because they’re in communities where there are no psychiatrists. So, we bring psychiatrists, or therapists, or a substance use specialist into the local community by real-time video conferencing and some of the other technologies that I mentioned.

The revenue model, without going into a lot of detail right now, is that we don’t cost clinics anything. We just see the patient that they refer to, and we build a health plan. I think we may be the only large-scale telebehavioral health group that isn’t charging the return clinic a fee for our service. That’s another unique factor at Synergia. We make it affordable and feasible for smaller primary care clinics…

For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Drs. Phil Hirsch & Craig Wright, or listen to the podcast version, below.

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