A sheriff's deputy pulls up to the emergency room at Scott County Hospital in rural Oneida, Tenn., with an agitated, disoriented passenger who appears to need psychiatric care, maybe even immediate hospitalization. But no one at the county hospital is trained to make that decision. The nearest qualified person is 59 miles across the state, at the Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital in Oak Ridge.
Only a few years ago a member of Ridgeview's Mobile Crisis Team would have driven for 90 minutes, mostly over winding back roads, to Oneida. During that long wait, the distressed patient could not receive needed treatment, and the ER would have had to deal with a possibly disruptive individual. But today when a call comes from Scott County, the Ridgeview clinician takes a much shorter trip, to a nearby room equipped for videoconferencing.
Back at the ER, a staffer accompanies the patient to a room fitted with similar equipment. An average of 13 minutes after the emergency room phones Ridgeview, the patient's evaluation gets under way. The medium may be different, but "it's the same evaluation," with no apparent difference in clinical results, says Sheila Musharbash, the Mobile Crisis Team's director. What is more, according to evaluation studies conducted as part of the federally funded research project that has supported the videoconference service since 2001, the 300-plus patients who have undergone the procedure have declared themselves very satisfied with the results.