Before the Coronavirus, Turning Point Counseling Services Had No Experience With Remote Care Models.
Today, telehealth represents nearly all of the small Alaskan behavioral health practice’s business.
A ‘Trial by Fire’ Approach to Telehealth
Turning Point Counseling Services is a full-service provider of behavioral health and substance abuse outpatient services. They offer everything from individual and family counseling to an intensive outpatient counseling program for substance abuse, and their counselors see patients with a wide array of diagnoses.
They provide services to approximately 2,000 active patients each year. Their 13 counselors engage in upwards of 400 patient visits during their busiest weeks. No one on their team had ever engaged with remote care models. It was a brand new undertaking for Turning Point brought on at the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic. With no experience, and no choice in the matter if they were to continue to care for their patients, what was a small Alaskan substance use disorder facility to do?
The Stay-At-Home Order
Beginning in March, the Governor of the state of Alaska, along with the state’s department of health began to issue COVID-19 mandates. The mandates ranged from limiting contact to suggesting the use of masks, closing buffets and restaurants to self-service, and closing public and private schools. By March 28th, at 8:00 AM much of the state had shut down and all non-essential workers were asked to remain in their homes to slow the spread of the deadly disease.
Nick Kraska is the chief operating officer and CFO of Turning Point Counseling Services. A native of Fairbanks, he has worked within the mental health community for the past seven years. He, along with the rest of the leadership team at Turning Point, needed to make a decision quickly once they had realized it was the only way to ensure continuity of care for their patients with stay-at-home orders in place.
His practice has always been very focused on personalized care, and they had a lot of questions about how that would translate within a virtual counseling model. Questions like:
- Would counselors be able to engage with patients on the same level?
- Would patients respond in ways that would promote optimal outcomes?
Before the pandemic, this wouldn’t have been a stressful event, Turning Point would have taken their time, evaluated the feasibility of the platform, its cost, and its value to patients who may have liked the idea but wanted to get out of their homes. At the pandemic’s height, the idea of completely changing how your practice sees patients can induce anxiety in anyone. However, when your state is shut down, what alternative do you have for your patients?
Since Turning Point Counseling Services was already an InSync EHR customer, we were able to rapidly deploy the feature request they had. A major benefit of working with a fully integrated electronic medical records software vendor like InSync Healthcare Solutions.
Today, Turning Point Counseling Services see about 90% of their outpatient clients and 100% of our substance abuse intensive outpatient program clients using the InSync telehealth application built into our powerful EHR system. Some patients have returned to in-person care, but they’ve found that other patients prefer virtual sessions. In particular, they’ve seen improvements with their higher-level care substance abuse program. Following the introduction of virtual sessions, that program has seen nearly 100% attendance and a very high graduation rate. Turning Point has also found that remote care works well for trauma patients because they feel safer participating in counseling from the comfort of their homes.
The Future of Their Care Delivery Model
When considering their care delivery model for the future Kraska had this to say, “We do believe that telehealth is a sustainable model for our practice and have made it part of our future strategy. Because we already had a HIPAA-compliant solution built into our EHR, we do not foresee the need to make any substantial adjustments to our offering. In addition, patient notes integrate directly into the EHR, which keeps us from having to duplicate efforts.”
“With this infrastructure in place, we plan to evaluate the feasibility of expanding these services to more remote, underserved areas of our region.”