News Article Details

Telemedicine access on mental health calls in the works

Claremore Daily Progress - 3/10/2020

Mar. 10--A program that was beta tested by Claremore Police Department is working it's way into Oklahoma law.

Recently, the Oklahoma state senate announced they had passed legislation that would provide mental health patients with telemedicine healthcare access when a law enforcement officer is sent to them for assistance.

Senate Bill 1208 was authored by Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, who said the legislation is "necessary to provide immediate patient care and reduce costly mental health transports."

SB1208 stipulates that "if an officer is called to assist a medically stable individual suffering from a mental health ailment, the patient could be assessed by a licensed mental health professional via telemedicine if the capability is available."

"When called to a scene under current law, our officers are required to immediately transport a mental health patient to the nearest facility with a bed available," Bergstrom said. "This can be extremely time consuming and costly for our law enforcement entities, especially in rural communities where there may only be a few deputies available each shift."

Bergstrom said a sheriff's department in his district implemented a telemedicine pilot program utilizing iPad technology for officers to use at these calls. Prior to telemedicine availability, officers were making 70-80 mental health transports per year. After the program was implemented, transports were significantly reduced.

"Based on the telemedicine program already in place in northeastern Oklahoma, we've seen that mental health patients receiving immediate access to medical care typically don't need to be taken to a mental health facility," Bergstrom said. "A faster diagnosis reduces patient trauma and allows for quicker treatment, reducing the number of required taxpayer funded mental health transports."

Claremore Police Chief Stan Brown said his department is already reaping the rewards of this program.

"I'm happy to report that we are part of the of the northeast portion of Oklahoma in which this program has already been launched. As a matter of fact we were one of the agencies which beta tested the program," he said. "I can tell you the immediate access that persons in mental health crisis receive as a result of telemedicine significantly enhances their treatment and stabilization. It provides reduced stressors for them and the responding/transporting officers."

He said the telemedicine program reduces time and travel expended by our officers in their statutory mandated involvement with the persons.

"One tremendous advantage is the ability for the person in crisis and the mental health professional responding to them via telemedicine to create a treatment plan which may not include actual transport by a law enforcement officer," he said. "Again, this helps reduce time and funds spent in our local hospital emergency rooms, in-transit cost and time for the transporting law enforcement agencies, and allows for reduced cost associated with in-home or Crisis Service Center care. Our time spent with mental health crisis persons has been reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 over the last two years as a result of this program. I am proud to support it."

The measure passed unanimously in the state senate and now heads to the Oklahoma House of Representatives for consideration.


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