Behavioral Health, Telehealth

Reaching Rural America With Online Behavioral Health Options

Fast Pace Health is reaching rural America with behavioral health services – i.e. comprehensive mental and physical health care services – that don’t require travel or an in-person visit to a clinic. Just an internet connection is required.

Thousands of rural patients are now receiving treatment from the comfort of home thanks to a telemedicine-style program at Fast Pace Health that offers behavioral health services online.

The Fast Pace Health’s vision is to increase access to healthcare in rural communities across the nation, where medical resources are limited. Clinics may be miles away. Specialists may be unavailable. Appointments may be limited. And yet, those communities struggle with the same mental health challenges as metropolitan America — challenges that have been particularly pronounced during the pandemic.

During the pandemic, one in four adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. That compares to one in 10 adults the year before, according to data released by the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control National Health Interview Survey.

Although Fast Pace Health had been offering virtual healthcare for nearly three years, it expanded its services during COVID-19 to help meet the increased demand.

“We were on the bleeding edge – piloting visits in patients’ homes,” said Bob McKenzie, the Executive Sponsor of Behavioral Health at Fast Pace Health. “COVID caused an acceleration. We now see thousands of patients from, and it’s barely a year later.”

Fast Pace Health has more than 140 physical clinics. And yet, half of its behavioral health services are offered online. Virtual visits are now the primary form of treatment, with clinical visits becoming secondary. Those virtual numbers continue to grow as Fast Pace Health works to reach communities with limited access to healthcare.

As an organization, Fast Pace Health was created for rural communities. These communities have historically struggled to find support for behavioral health needs. Why? Because some communities are located far away from clinics, requiring long drive times and hours away from work for patients. Communities may lack a local practitioner who specializes in behavioral health, or who is able to provide culturally appropriate care. Clinics may also have limited medical personnel, leading to difficulty in scheduling timely appointments.

“Patients in rural communities struggle a lot more with accessing behavioral health providers,” McKenzie said, “although it can be tough everywhere.”

McKenzie joined Fast Pace Health to help strengthen those behavioral health services. By collaborating with other colleagues, he has watched healthcare services become more accessible to communities in a remarkably short amount of time. The project has become a full-time effort.

“We jumped in and spent the first month or two just making virtual home care a viable option,” McKenzie said. “Eventually, the program grew to become our main focus.”

Fast Pace Health offers services that include both sides of behavioral health. Fast Pace provides counseling and therapy services as well as medication management. Collaborative efforts between counselors and nurse practitioners allow Fast Pace to provide both services.

“We work as a team,” McKenzie said. “Without Fast Pace Health, many patients would have to go to two different providers to receive comprehensive care.”

While not every patient requires both counseling and medication management, Fast Pace believes that attacking the problem from both sides is highly effective. This approach is most applicable when treating individuals with common issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, grief issues, and family issues. If Fast Pace Health receives patients requiring higher levels of care, they will refer them to other resources.

The virtual platform reduces the number of challenges most patients face when trying to access behavioral health care. In addition, the vast number of resources offered through this system connects patients with proper providers to treat their needs in a more expedited fashion.

“Our clinics can call our Behavioral Health team and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got Bob McKenzie here. He’s one of our patients. He could really use an appointment.'” McKenzie said. “We can schedule patients on the spot, creating care options for people who previously lacked access to a provider.”

“This is effective care that is well supported by research and the medical community,” McKenzie said. “The Federal government, specifically the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has been focused on increasing access to virtual options for years because of their efficacy and ability to overcome common barriers to care.”

McKenzie credits the pandemic for helping Fast Pace achieve its own goal of providing a full spectrum of comprehensive care in people’s homes as well as in clinics. The pandemic also demonstrated that technology has the power to provide healthcare on a massive scale — something that would have been hard to believe beforehand.

If you would like to make a virtual appointment for behavioral health services, simply click “Behavioral Health” on our website. From there, register as a new patient and our behavioral health call center will help set you up with an appointment. Our vision is to make these services more accessible than ever before.

This blog originally published July 2021

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