Newsletter June 2020

Behavioral Health - Telehealth

Dr. Todd Lewicki, PhD, LMSW, MBA
Chief Behavioral Health Officer

Telehealth is a form of telecommunication whose purpose is to connect an individual with a health care professional that is in a different location. This is a real-time (synchronous), interactive process that allows for the delivery of behavioral health and/or substance use disorder treatment services through telecommunications equipment. On March 18th and 19th, 2020 the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) was quick to provide guidance related to relaxing certain face to face service requirements while still supporting ongoing service contact with individuals served. The temporary policy changes were due to the transmission dangers presented by actual face to face contact during the COVID-19 (cornoavrius disease-2019) pandemic. The health and welfare of individuals and providers needed to be safely and effectively addressed, especially because a great number of individuals in services are also at greater risk due to possessing multiple health issues (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, congenital issues, etc).  

To facilitate face to face encounters through telehealth, the Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities Administration (BHDDA) established a COVID-19 encounter code chart defining which services could be provided through the COVID-19 face to face guidance. As a result, BHDDA opened a total of 249 codes that could be used via the telehealth method. This was a 62% increase in services now available through telehealth. While encounter data relating to the timeframe of March 2020 forward is still being processed, it will likely show that the behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment systems were able to quickly react and respond by quickly and safely reengaging major portions of the community. Engagement is a central feature to building trust and connecting in therapeutically meaningful ways. While further analysis remains to be completed, anecdotal evidence thus far supports advocating for the continuance (i.e. post-pandemic) of many service codes through telehealth. There are many positive examples from individuals that have received services as delivered through telehealth, including direct comments about liking the option to use telehealth, wanting to see it continue (i.e. choice), sharing more information, to psychiatric appointments reaching 100% show rates. These examples are encouraging, positive, and require further review as there is now growing proof that telehealth should be made more widely available even as the COVID-19 pandemic eases at some point in the future.

For additional information, please contact Todd at