Telehealth at Behavioral Health Services

At Penn Highlands Healthcare, mental health is just as important as physical health. When a person is having trouble with depression, anxiety or any other issue, he or she may need some time to have supervised care, which includes therapy time and perhaps help with regulating a medication.

Behavioral Health Services are provided at each Penn Highlands Healthcare hospital. There are inpatient geriatric units at Penn Highlands Brookville, Penn Highlands Clearfield and Penn Highlands Elk. The Adult Inpatient Unit and the Child/Adolescent Inpatient Unit are located at Penn Highlands DuBois East.

When a patient is having a difficult time or is in a crisis, he or she may be taken to any of the four Emergency Departments of Penn Highlands Healthcare. While in the ED, an assessment is performed by the ED physician and a specific assessment is completed by a staff member with expertise in the mental health field – someone from Behavioral Health Services.

The four-hospitals refer to each other’s units based on the best location for a patient’s needs. With the distance between them – especially with PH DuBois having the only adult and child/adolescent units – the Behavioral Health staff was looking for a quicker way to have someone assessed and on the road to better health.

“Tele-assessment services are now provided within the Penn Highlands system through the Intake Department at Behavioral Health,” according to Arianne Zimmerman, director of Clinical Operations, Behavioral Health Services. It is primarily used for patients who may qualify for care in the Adult Inpatient or Child/Adolescent units at PH DuBois.

“The Intake Department is stationed at PH DuBois East and is staffed by an intake therapist,” she said. “From there, the therapist completes a mental health assessment through iPad technology using an application called Jabber.” Jabber is a secure video call system where the therapist can see the patient on a computer screen and the patient can see the therapist on the iPad. All of this is done with help from Emergency Department staff.

After the initial interview, the therapist provides the assessment to a psychiatrist who determines the course for mental health treatment. A patient could be admitted for inpatient care, discharged with instructions or transferred to another facility that meets the patient’s needs.

“The goal of implementing the tele-assessment process is to increase admission efficiency and reduce the length of stay in the Emergency Department for the patient,” Zimmerman said.

Tele-assessment services started with Penn Highlands Brookville in December 2016, with Penn Highlands Clearfield in May 2017 and with Penn Highlands Elk in July 2017. “Hospitals and agencies outside of the system have also expressed interest in utilizing the tele-assessment services through PH DuBois,” Zimmerman said.

“We have received positive feedback regarding this new service from staff and patients. Through the tele-assessment process, we eliminated unnecessary steps which previously caused delays in determining patient disposition,” she said.