From telePsychiatry Skepticism to Advocacy—and Beyond
We hear many stories about healthcare professionals and patients overcoming telePsychiatry skepticism, but none more gratifying than SOC’s new Director of Behavioral Health. Char Biamonte, Ph.D., MA, BS, BC-NE, BC-RN, FACHE, has more than 30 years of healthcare experience, primarily in a hospital setting. She previously served as Director of Psychiatric Services at CaroMont Regional Medical Center, a SOC Telemed partner hospital. As she has worked through launching a telePsychiatry program first-hand, Dr. Biamonte brings insider knowledge to SOC Telemed’s current and future partner hospitals.
Dr. Biamonte’s unique experience on the client-side makes her an excellent fit to lead the Behavioral Health group. “I get to tell nurses that this really works,” she says. “Joining forces with SOC is a true partnership and working together brings a synergy that is ultimately beneficial to the patient. Everyone on the team is committed to the hospital’s success and the care of our patients.”
“My Ph.D. is in Organizational Leadership. My dissertation was a Phenomenology Study on Leadership Experiences of Women in Executive Positions in Healthcare,” Dr. Biamonte explains. “My mind thinks in organizational patterns. How can you make your processes better for your people and, ultimately, your patients? Where are the gaps? Where are the opportunities?”
TelePsychiatry skepticism in the ED
While Dr. Biamonte was at CaroMont, she saw a steady increase in the volume of patients arriving at the ED presenting with psychiatric needs. Like many other hospitals across the country, CaroMont did not have enough mental health resources to handle the influx of patients with mental health or substance abuse needs. This caused long wait times and a strain on resources. The problem at CaroMont was not unique. The status quo wasn’t working, and Dr. Biamonte and her team researched telePsychiatry as a way to alleviate the situation.
“I was very skeptical about how people with mental illness would accept talking to a doctor through a screen. It turned out our patients shared openly with the telePsychiatry providers—sometimes even more than they shared with our nurses,” says Dr. Biamonte. “I was also concerned that the hospital staff would be slow to warm up to them, but the psychiatrists engaged with our staff and were able to become part of the team. I also thought that the SOC psychiatrists would recommend all patients for admission because that would be the path of least resistance. This was not the case!”
“To my surprise and delight, SOC was a great partner,” says Dr. Biamonte. “The SOC doctors became friends with my boots on the ground behavioral health team. We teamed up to evaluate our patients and gave them timely assessments and appropriate dispositions.”
Under Dr. Biamonte’s leadership, the hospital launched a telePsychiatry practice and reduced the length of stay for psychiatric patients by 70% in the Emergency Department. They also increased the medically appropriate discharge rate to 65%. Improved access and timeliness of psychiatric care in the ED had a positive effect on psychiatric patients. It also increased bed availability for all patients. As a result, CaroMont reduced its annual Psychiatric Code Purple (overflowing ED) hours from 1,700 to just 148.
Focus on quality for telePsychiatry
Dr. Biamonte knows how important quality is to mental health program success. When evaluating telePsychiatry vendors, she appreciated that SOC Telemed was the first provider of acute clinical telemedicine services to earn The Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval. “I want hospitals to understand how seriously SOC takes their quality of service, not just the service itself. Sure, we see a lot of patients here, but we are placing the most attention on the quality of services we provide.”
“When I decided to leave the hospital and had the chance to join SOC, I realized I had found my dream job,” says Dr. Biamonte. I understand from a clinical perspective how challenging it is to have enough providers in psychiatry. Being able to help these facilities and provide their patients access to care in a timely manner is so important to me.”
Broadening access to mental health care
Mental health remains an issue that many are still embarrassed to discuss, and there continues to be a shortage of providers.
“People don’t want to deal with it until it hits their families,” says Dr. Biamonte. “No one brings a casserole to your house because you’re struggling with anxiety, right? But, when they do need help, telemedicine can provide the resources these families need.”
“I really think this is the future, and I’m honored to be a part of the team broadening access to better care.”
If your team is skeptical about the benefits of telePsychiatry to alleviate wait times in your emergency department, we want a chance to change your mind. Contact us for a working session with Dr. Biamonte.