Plains Area will offer Physician/Client meeting through teleconferencing

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Plains Area Mental Heath Center will introduce a new teleconferencing system in February that is expected to cut down on wait time and travel time for the physicians and the clients. The Telehealth teleconferencing will allow a physician to be in one location and the client in another and will provide the same quality treatment as if the meeting were face-to-face.

All five of Plains Area locations - Storm Lake, LeMars, Ida Grove, Cherokee and Orange City - will receive units, said Patrick Schmitz, Plains Area Mental Health Center's executive director. Two additional units will be placed in two offices of physicians in Sioux City and Sioux Falls, SD, that are contracted by Plains Area.

The units are being made available through a $212, 390 grant received from Community Reinvestment Funding through the Department of Human Services of Iowa.

The grant has been received in the past as well and has allowed some important advancements to be funded to improve the operation of mental health care.

Schmitz said Plains Area has contracts with four psychiatrists, one physicians assistant and one nurse practitioner; most of them are only able to give a limited number of hours. The teleconferencing will allow for less travel time and more client time.

"The physician and client can see and hear each other in real time and the assessment can take place," Schmitz said. He added that the teleconferencing system is high speed, high definition with no noticeable delay time.

Part of the grant will pay for services provided to Medicaid patients and about $54,000 will supply the seven teleconference units.

Other clients may use the services if their insurance companies will cover it. Fees will be charged as if the client and physician are face to face in the same room. Schmitz said Plains Area personnel have checked with a few top insurance companies and will continue to check with others to allow as many clients as possible the opportunity to use the system. He said clients may also check with their own companies if they wish.

The clients will be assisted at the Plains Area site of his or her choice by staff members, he said. The clients will not be required to operate the equipment; the physician will be on screen when the client enters the room.

The new method will not replace all face-to-face meetings, but is expected to allow more patients to be seen, since the travel time of the physician will be cut drastically. The wait time for clients will also be reduced. Dealing with the winter weather in Iowa is always an issue that will be remedied by the system. If a physician is not able to travel the great distance to a Plains Area due to ice or snow, appointments can still take place through the teleconferencing.

For some clients, Schmitz said, the teleconferencing may not be appropriate and those clients will still be able to meet with their physicians face to face, no problem.

Schmitz added that once the system is set up, Plains Area will be networked with thousands of other sites. It is expected that eventually, physicians could be contracted from other states to allow for clients to receive the care they are needing and desiring.

It is hoped the system will be in place by Feb. 1. Plains Area is located at 200 West Railroad Ave. in Storm Lake.

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