Children referred for mental health services in Los Angeles County using a telehealth referral were three times more likely to complete a community mental health clinic (CMHC) screening than children receiving conventional mental health referrals, a study found.
“Our findings highlight the importance of this initial access point for a successful referral to the CHMC,”, MBA, of the University of Washington, Seattle, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and her colleagues wrote in . “We can hypothesize that the assistance from the telehealth care coordinator may have played an important role in access for families.”
Although this study was not powered to compare psychological health or quality-of-life differences, a larger study with a longer follow-up period may allow study of “variation in health outcomes … among a sample of all who were initially referred, particularly if the higher rates of access for children in the intervention translate into a greater proportion of children receiving services,” the authors wrote.
The research group partnered with two community mental health clinics (CMHCs) and six federally qualified health center clinics, the latter randomly assigned as control or intervention. The telehealth-enhanced referral process developed by the researchers involved patients at the intervention clinics viewing a video orientation to the CMHC and then participating in a live video conference for screening. Completion of the referral screening visit was the measure for CMHC access as a primary endpoint.
Among the 342 children, aged 5-12 years (average, 9 years), enrolled in the study, 87% were Latino, and 62% were boys.
Of children using the telehealth referral process, 80% completed an initial CMHC screening, compared to 64% of children receiving referrals via usual care procedures, resulting in three-times greater odds of a screening in the intervention group (adjusted odds ratio, 3.02).
It took approximately 6 more days for the telehealth-referred children to complete the screening.
“The increased time to the initial access point was anticipated for the intervention clinics because the telehealth care coordinator and CMHC staff held all the videoconference screening visits on a single preselected day each week,” which thereby limited availability of slots for screenings, Dr. Coker and her associates wrote.
Children who received telehealth-enabled referrals reported higher satisfaction levels with the referral system and with care, compared with those using usual care methods. Of the 342 children in the study, 213 were considered eligible to receive CMHC services. Reasons for ineligibility for services included presence of a developmental disability, lack of an mental health need, private health insurance coverage, a zip code outside of the CMHC’s catchment area, and not meeting income requirements.
Of those 213, 80% of the intervention group and 84% of controls subsequently had a mental health visit.
A study limitation is its personalization to the community partners involved, which may require different procedures in other settings, the authors noted. The study also did not look at the quality of mental health services received after initial screenings, precluding the ability to assess clinical outcomes. In addition, “the CMHCs did not involve the payers of mental health care for this population, limiting our capacity to identify barriers and system solutions that may improve the intervention’s sustainability,” the authors wrote.
The research was funded by grants from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the California Community Foundation. The authors reported having no relevant financial disclosures.
SOURCE: Coker TR et al. Pediatrics. 2019 Feb 15. .