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Published on April 26, 2018

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Offering Mental Health Care to Reservations Through Telemedicine

Modern technology is making mental health services more available for patients at Indian Health Service (IHS) clinics.

Using the existing Avera eCARE® Behavioral Health infrastructure, psychiatrists and social workers, along with other professionals, are augmenting the in-person services these clinics provide to families and individuals in the Great Plains.

The efforts, which fall along three key efforts to boost assessments, psychiatric and therapy services, are underway now, and offer an effective means of giving more patients opportunities to get care.

“The assessment aspect of this effort has been in place for a few years, and we have incorporated a staff of all registered nurses with psychiatric training for the last year,” said Becky Jibben RN, MS, director of Behavioral Health Services for Avera eCARE. “Since January 2018 we have incorporated social workers as well as psychiatrists who meet with patients via our eCARE telemedicine video conferencing systems.”

Those systems allow for real-time live video conversations between patients and care givers at five IHS clinics. Patients can discuss medication management with psychiatrists or take part in therapy sessions with social workers. Those sessions could consist of a single visit or multiple sessions over several weeks or months.

Several Avera clinics and their professionals coordinate services to meet terms of a contract between IHS and Avera.

“There’s a distinct need for these services and we’re already seeing our schedules fill up. There are great behavioral health services in place throughout IHS, but we can help free up staff so they can address critical cases or crisis situations,” said Jibben. “There are some nerves for those new to telemedicine appointments, but it becomes natural quickly.”

That’s what Ashley Jansen, DNP, APRN, PMHNP-BC, experienced. She’s a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with Avera eCARE, who is part of the effort with IHS.

“Avera eCARE’s behavioral health department is helping provide much-needed mental health care to an American Indian population that has a long history of struggles, and I’m deeply honored to be part of this team,” said Jansen. “It’s been particularly wonderful to be able to reach out to various different IHS facilities, all in one day. I may see someone in South Dakota for one visit, and my next patient may be in North Dakota, giving us a much greater reach than traditional appointments would allow.

I have been amazed at how quickly patients, particularly children, have become excited to work with us via telehealth resources.”

The program aims to add an additional 14 clinics in 2018; Avera eCARE Behavioral Health currently provides assessment services to nearly 160 sites in 13 different states.

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