According to the National Institute for Mental Health, over 20 percent of U.S. children will experience a period of serious mental illness before adulthood, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that about 13 percent of children aged 8 to 15 had a diagnosable mental disorder within the prior year. To increase access to needed specialty care for families in rural areas, the University of Missouri has been providing psychiatric and counseling services via telemedicine to patients around the state, and recent study results on the project may give children's health advocates something to smile about.
Launched in 1994, the university-adminstrated Missouri Telehealth Service has been connecting kids with telepsychiatry appointments at a growing rate throughout the state of Missouri, where around 40 percent of the population lives outside urban areas, according to a press release. A recent study by the University of Missouri School of Medicine revealed that the video-based mental health services are being utilized in mostly rural areas by individuals who might otherwise need to travel upwards of 20 miles for support, and whose average age is 16.
"One of the biggest health care issues we as a nation face is a physician shortage in pediatric and adolescent behavioral health," said Mirna Becevic, an assistant research professor of telemedicine and the study's lead author. She continued,
The Council on Graduate Medical Education, a committee of the Department of Health and Human Services, advised in 1990 of the anticipated need for 30,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists by the year 2000. However, today only about 8,300 physicians specialize in child and adolescent psychiatry. This shortage not only affects youth in rural locations, but children in all underserved areas.
Researchers analyzed data on use of the platform for tele-psychiatry between July 2013 and May 2014 to determine which patient groups most benefit from its access. Among the the 179 patients who utilized the Missouri Telehealth Service (making a total of 662 tele-psychiatry appointments), the average distance each would need to travel to receive child and adolescent-specialized psychiatric treatment was 22.2 miles, with the most distant patient living 300 miles from such services.
"Our findings indicate that there is limited access to child and adolescent psychiatric services in our state," Becevic said. "More important, our study illustrates how remote populations have severe barriers to access ... [and] highlights the severity of the need for mental health services in our state, especially for children and adolescents."
According to a recent AcademyHealth study, telemedicine use for specialty consultations and care in rural areas is on the rise nationwide, and investors seem hip to the spread of the often cost-effective, high-tech remote services. Around the country, healthcare administrators, providers, and innovators are working to leverage telehealth toward everything from stemming the U.S.' opioid abuse epidemic to helping women better access sexual and reproductive support, potentially much to the benefit of rural populations. And hopefully--if Missouri's example get noticed, perhaps--to the benefit of a growing number of children and teens needing mental health support, too.
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