This spring, we’ll release “Innovating Michigan Healthcare: Lessons from Funding Technology in Health Since 2015,” an in-depth report on how the Health Fund is supporting technology-based projects. Our new series, “Tech Tuesdays,” reveals some of our stories from the field—examples of Health Fund grantees incorporating technology in noteworthy and effective ways.
Family Medical Center of Michigan
Using School-Based Telemedicine to Improve Behavioral Health Outcomes
2016 Behavioral Health Grant Round
Improving behavioral health services for children and adolescents creates a ripple effect of positive health outcomes, but more than 40,000 Michigan children aren’t getting the treatment they need. In rural regions, two factors have a major impact on access to behavioral health services. First, a widely identified shortage of psychiatrists in rural communities contributes to significantly higher rates of mental health disorders among children when compared with indicators from urban areas. Second, the majority of children only access mental health services through their school systems.
The Family Medical Center of MI, Inc. (FMC) sought to address these obstacles by providing resources for ADHD, depression, anxiety, and substance use disorders using telemedicine in ten schools throughout rural Southeast Michigan. The program equipped each school with mobile carts housing software and technology required for remote consultations with off-site FMC behavioral health staff. To provide additional flexibility, the telehealth platform used in this initiative can be used on devices other than the mobile carts. Additionally, FMC has staffed each school with a licensed social worker trained to facilitate the telehealth sessions. Students exhibiting “red flags” indicating possible behavioral health issues were referred by school counselors, teachers, and principals to the school nurse for screenings.
If the screening revealed the need for further support, nurses coordinated scheduling with FMC behavioral health staff. By the end of the funding period, these staff were credentialed with all Medicaid and commercial health plans covering the students within the target region, so a student’s insurance could cover the cost of the treatment. Additionally, FMC employed a sliding fee scale to account for families covered by high-deductible commercial insurance, allowing every student in need of behavioral health services access to them.
Recognizing the central role school systems already play in delivering behavioral health services, FMC provided an adaptable framework that was easy to integrate into each school’s existing processes. This provided school staff with ownership over the program’s success and helped generate broad buy-in for the program. The program’s adaptable design is also promising for expansion efforts: five months into the grant period, FMC was able to adapt the program for an additional school that demonstrated need and readiness.
During the grant period, 308 students received behavioral health services, which largely addressed undiagnosed attention deficit disorders, depressive disorders, and anxiety. Providing these services through schools enabled students to receive care they otherwise would not have sought, while minimizing absenteeism and time outside of the classroom. The initiative’s success sparked interest from surrounding communities, and FMC is currently expanding the program to more schools in rural Southeast Michigan as well as Metro Detroit.