In 2007, with grant funding provided by the Illinois Department of Human Services – Division of Mental Health, Aunt Martha’s launched the first private secure network in Illinois to provide telepsychiatry services. The technology system we created was the first of its kind in the state. The goal was two-fold:
- Create access to care. Illinois, like many states with rural areas, has a shortage of child psychiatrists. Our telepsychiatry program child psychiatrists available to those communities. It also became a model for future expansion.
- Lower the cost of care. In the short-term, telepsychiatry would lower the cost of care for families by eliminating travel, child care expenses and time away from home or work.
Our first telepsychiatry network consisted of six Community Mental Health Centers in central and southern Illinois. The centers were able to refer children and adolescents, ages 0-17 with behavioral and emotional problems, who worked with Aunt Martha’s psychiatrists by video-conferencing for evaluations and medication management. Despite the technological breakthrough, there were still barriers to making it all work.
- At the time, access to a high-speed internet connection capable of supporting a high-quality, clinical interaction was spotty at best, particularly in the areas targeted by the telepsych program. This required special telecom lines to be installed at each partner site.
- Oh, and Aunt Martha’s could not bill Medicaid for the visits provided over its telepsych network. Incredibly, it would be nearly a decade before telepsychiatry services could be billed just like an office visit!