Muhammad Sair Khan
Should Your Facility Offer Telemental Health Services to Schools?
A Texas program to expand mental health care in schools is receiving new national attention thanks to a bill brought before the House of Representatives.
The program, called the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage and Referral (TWITR) program, was launched in 2012 in response the growing number of school shootings. It uses telehealth services to screen students for a number of behavioral health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, as well as violent thoughts from their school.
More than 400 students across Texas have been screened through the program, leading to referrals to psychiatric care and even arrests for planned school shootings. The program has even lowered truancy rates among students who receive telemedicine health at school.
Texas legislators are planning to expand school-based telemental health services statewide to ensure more students have access to this care. The federal government may follow suit.
Legislators recently introduced the the Behavioral Intervention Guidelines (BIG) Act (HR 3539), which would lead to government guidelines on how to use and implement behavioral health intervention programs in schools. According to the bill, the Health and Human Services Department and the Departments of Education, Justice and Homeland Security would work together to develop these guidelines.
How Expanded School-Based Telehealth Services Could Affect Your Facility
Guidelines are just a first step on a long road to expanding school telehealth services. Legislators have not allocated any funds for the expansion of this programs nor have they determined how mental health care providers would be reimbursed for providing these services. It is unclear whether the government would pay for such services or if the student’s private insurance would be billed.
While Texas provides a blueprint and proof of concept for such services, it may not be enough to convince lawmakers to fund them. But with the growing number of school shootings and rising rates of depression and anxiety among children and teenagers, school-based telemental health services may become more and more vital to the health of our communities. The programs not only improve student health, but school safety for all students.
The expansion of such services may also provide unique opportunities for behavioral health facilities. Partnering with schools to offer services, whether in person or via telehealth greatly expands referral opportunities, while improving your facility’s reputation in the community. Implementing telehealth services now could open up these opportunities in the future.
Though funding is still a ways away for such services, it is a growing area of mental health care to keep an eye on in the future. While you may not be able to offer school-based services yet, there are currently opportunities to partner with schools for community events, training, and other programs that could help students, teachers, and administrators better understand behavioral health and what to do when they need behavioral health care.
At Datapro billing, our experts have a deep understanding of the trends and changes in behavioral health and telehealth care. Contact us to discuss new ways you can use telehealth for improved patient care and additional revenue—and how to bill for such services