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Training psychiatrists in Idaho: A telemedicine model

Our state continues to face a lack of psychiatric services. Mental and behavioral health resources in the region are limited due to the small number of trained psychiatrists we have available in our local community.

Area behavioral health units — including the Saint Alphonsus inpatient behavioral health unit — are frequently full, often due to mental and behavioral health issues that reach a point of crisis requiring hospitalization.

To build out preventative and responsive mental health services both locally and throughout Idaho, Saint Alphonsus decided to take action. In partnership with the University of Washington, we have been training psychiatric residents — students in their third and fourth years of training to become psychiatrists — with an opportunity to provide mental and behavioral health services to areas of rural Idaho and Oregon via telemedicine.

The telepsychiatry training program allows for psychiatric resident students from the University of Washington to have Skype-like video chats with patients from across Idaho and Oregon who would otherwise not have access to mental and behavioral health services. In collaboration with many rural clinics, primary care providers and hospitals, the telepsychiatry residency program offers psychiatric consultation for conditions such as depression and anxiety.

Known as the Idaho Advanced Clinician Track of the University of Washington’s Psychiatry Residency Program, consultations are provided by a rotation of three third-year residents and one fourth-year resident using telehealth technology. Patients are using the service one day per week in a supervised telemedicine studio on the campus of Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise.

Not only can we address mental and behavioral health through this program, but physical health as well. Research has shown that behavioral health issues complicate the care for up to 30 percent of patients suffering from chronic diseases. By addressing the mental and behavioral health issues, we will have more success in treating the chronic condition.

We are excited to partner with our lead psychiatrist for the program, Dr. Camille LaCroix, and the University of Washington to provide these rural areas with vital mental and behavioral health services. We look forward to continue expanding the service area to broader regions of the Northwest.

Rodney Reider is president and CEO of Saint Alphonsus Health System. He heads all Saint Alphonsus facilities, which stretch from Boise to Baker City, Ore. This column appears in the Oct. 19-Nov. 15, 2016, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine as part of a special section on the business of health. Click here for the e-edition (subscription required).