In many parts of the United States, children and adolescents with mental health needs have scant access to psychiatric care. NYU Langone Health has led efforts to address this shortage through the use of telepsychiatry, a telecommunications technology innovation that connects patients with clinicians at a distance.
Since 2010, NYU Langone’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has partnered with the New York State Office of Mental Health (OMH) to provide telepsychiatry services to several upstate facilities, including the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, the Mohawk Valley Psychiatric Center, and the Elmira Psychiatric Center. These telepsychiatry services include direct psychiatric care as well as consultations with healthcare professionals.
Two years ago, the department developed the first NYU Langone resident and NYU School of Medicine student pediatric telepsychiatry training clinic in partnership with the Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center, an OMH-run institution in Orangeburg, New York.
This clinic provides telepsychiatry services to school-based programs in Ulster and Sullivan Counties. In addition to their value to clinical care, the partnerships offer vital educational opportunities for future practitioners. Second-year child and adolescent psychiatry fellows and medical students who rotate through these programs gain valuable experience in the field.
In July 2017, Shabana Khan, MD, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and director of Child and Adolescent Telepsychiatry, joined the Child Study Center faculty to further expand these services to children in and beyond the New York area. Her work has been focused on enhancing and expanding the technology’s proven efficacy.
“The literature shows that this treatment modality achieves outcomes comparable to in-person care across a wide range of diagnoses, and across the life span,” says Dr. Khan. “Patient satisfaction rates are very high, at 95 percent or greater. Some individuals, such as those with a significant anxiety or trauma history, may actually prefer to see their doctor or therapist this way. Telepsychiatry transforms our practice and improves current models of care.”
From Rural Centers to Urban Communities, Telepsychiatry Brings Benefits
Whereas previous telepsychiatry access efforts have focused on rural areas, the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has now begun outreach to underserved urban communities.
In October 2017, in partnership with NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, the Child Study Center launched telepsychiatry programs at two public schools in the largely low-income Sunset Park neighborhood, part of a plan to reach school-based mental health programs throughout Brooklyn.
At present, these school-based services include psychiatric assessment, medication management, and consultation with other providers. More offerings, such as psychotherapy and autism assessments, will be rolled out in the future.
Dr. Khan also works closely with Ruth S. Gerson, MD, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and director of the Children’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program (C-CPEP) at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, to provide pediatric telepsychiatry consultations from the C-CPEP to emergency departments at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn and NYU Langone Health—Cobble Hill, as well as to other locations in the NYC Health + Hospitals network.
In addition to serving these patient populations, the department’s telepsychiatry program is developing nationwide models to allow the nation’s 7,400 practicing child psychiatrists to better reach the estimated 13 percent of U.S. children who experience a psychiatric disorder annually.
The program will expand to provide tele-education to mental health professionals in underserved areas who may not have easy access to educational resources. This will allow more children and adolescents to receive evidence-based behavioral healthcare.
“There are places across this country where you can drive for hundreds of miles without finding a mental healthcare provider of any kind,” Dr. Khan observes. “As the evidence base continues to grow, demonstrating that telepsychiatry is feasible, acceptable, and highly effective, the use of this technology will grow tremendously in treatment, educational, and research settings.”