Telehealth is one of the fastest growing areas of healthcare and behavioural health is the latest speciality to use it to achieve better clinical outcomes, increased patient satisfaction, better resource utilisation, and lower costs.

The behavioural health/telehealth scenario is simple to envision: a patient presents behavioural health concerns, such as substance abuse or suicidal thoughts, in an emergency room late at night. The patient needs to see a psychiatrist as soon as possible but there isn’t one available.

Most hospitals cannot afford to have mental health specialists on standby 24/7 in the emergency room (ER). However, by using telepsychiatry — a subset of telehealth — an appropriate physician can be engaged at a moment’s notice for a remote session with the patient. This means the patient will be treated sooner and the hospital can handle the encounter without having a psychiatrist on call — provided the patient’s information is available.

As with any healthcare session, a psychiatrist needs a significant amount of clinical information to appropriately treat the patient. They need to know things like what past problems has the patient had? What is their social environment and living situation? What medications are they taking?  

All of this information is locked in the ER’s electronic health record (EHR) and it’s not always practical or desirable to provide access to outside physicians. Therefore, it’s necessary to exchange data bidirectionally, between the ER’s system and the psychiatrist’s record of the patient. The ER needs to send a patient summary and later, receive a care plan back from the telehealth software. Naturally, the formats will vary between systems, and that’s where an integration engine becomes critical.

Most hospitals will already have an integration engine, such as the Rhapsody Integration Engine, to transmit data to the outside world. However, not every telehealth or behavioural health EHR has a flexible way of receiving that data, which is why an integration tool is helpful on the receiving end as well. This allows data to be sent and received as well as seamlessly integrated into the receiving system’s database.

A comprehensive engine should also integrate into the event-based workflow of a hospital and listen for ADT messages relevant to a telehealth scenario. Using the previous example, this means the patient with behavioural health concerns can automatically be sent to the telepsychiatry service, starting the workflow by assigning a specialist to see the patient and requesting the clinical documentation from the hospital’s EHR.

By enabling the workflows and data interchanges related to telehealth, integration engines can help clients realise this new model of delivering health care, along with the cost and satisfaction improvements that come with it.