May is Mental Health Month, and in honor of the occasion, we have some thoughts on how telehealth is an essential platform for mental health triage. We are currently sitting on the fringes of winter, when seasonal depression is a rampant burden on the mental health of millions, and of the years of COVID-19-related isolation. These two phenomena have combined in an (im)perfect storm to create crises of mental health management across the world. If you have been caught in the storm, telehealth triage may be a helpful boon.
What is Mental Health Triage?
According to a 2016 study from the National Institute of Mental Health, almost one in five U.S. adults struggles with mental illness, and a 2017 report by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality discovered a 44% increase in mental health- and substance abuse-related ER visits. Incidents of visits related to suicidal ideation grew by almost 415%. With one in eight visits to the ER in the US relating to mental health or substance abuse, mental health triage is clearly a necessary field.
Triage describes assessing the urgency of medical concerns and determining the immediacy needed for treatment. Mental health triage assessment can be performed face-to-face or over the phone and can serve as the first professional medical contact in the event of a mental health crisis. A triage nurse provides initial support and makes the judgment call for how to move forward with a patient’s care. This includes the choice of whether or not hospitalization is required.
The Importance of Telehealth Mental Health Triage
As mentioned above, triage nurses are often the first on the scene when it comes to assessing and treating patients’ mental health concerns. However, if that assessment can be performed not on the scene, per se, the assessing process can be even more effective. This is where telehealth triage is such an effective tool for helping patients on their path to restored mental health.
The benefits of telehealth for mental health are many. Perhaps most important is that telehealth triage makes help available to people to whom it would not usually be. Those struggling with mental health challenges can find support, and so too can healthcare facilities.
Effective telehealth triage for mental health can offer appropriate assessment of a patient’s care needs. This means that patients who may think they need hospitalization can be directed to other means of care better suited to them, simultaneously relieving strain on overburdened emergency rooms. Triage over the phone increases access to prompt service and improves client experiences.
Reduced Wait and Transit Times
In a post-COVID world, the nursing shortage has never been so profoundly felt, especially as the demand for medical services grows by the day. Particularly in cases of anxiety or PTSD, the very worst thing for a patient is to wait in traffic or crowded waiting rooms in anticipation of seeing the doctor. Telehealth triage can direct care efforts in a way that minimizes unnecessary time spent waiting in the hospital or on the road.
Timely and Effective Triage
During a triage phone call, clinicians provide a point-of-entry mental health assessment. This entails categorizing the severity of patients’ concerns according to the emergency severity index, 5 being the least urgent and 1 requiring immediate action.
The assessment also allows professionals to collect medical history for accurate diagnosis of conditions that mirror mental health conditions to ensure wires do not get crossed and that the true cause of discomfort is treated. Many current medical protocols are focused on medical treatment more than attending to mental illness, but dedicated telehealth triage has the ability to give the time needed to properly attend to patients calling in for reasons of mental health challenges.
What Makes a Good Telephone Triage Nurse?
Triage nurses are on the front line when it comes to helping patients who call in for mental health concerns. They serve as advocates in interactions that have the potential to be uncomfortable or even frightening. Telehealth professionals utilize both clinical judgment and the emotional connection of sympathetic human interaction to determine the patient’s mental health state.
Listening and providing reassurances in the form of “I understand” can be monumentally helpful for someone struggling with mental illness and feeling alone. Triage nurses may also be able to interpret patients’ explanations even as they struggle to articulate precisely what they feel. Effective triage responders are patient, sympathetic, and efficient in their mental health triage questions and responses. They set aside biases and preconceived notions that can interfere with effective care.
At CareXM, we are dedicated to providing the best telehealth services for mental health. Our goal is to offer effective mental health triage and help patients struggling with mental health challenges to integrate smoothly into the care facilities best suited for their individual needs.