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Support for Mental Health Needs Is Just a Phone Call Away

MetroHealth in Ohio uses a COVID-19 hotline and Epic communication tools to connect patients to behavioral health specialists

Last March, Terry Stancin, PhD, headed to a staff meeting to discuss MetroHealth’s plans to address a potential surge of patients with COVID-19. She and her colleagues discussed how many hospital beds were available and patients’ questions about the virus, but they also raised the need to address the mental health impact of the pandemic.

“During a healthcare crisis like this, we knew that patients, their families, and our frontline staff would all be facing extreme stress,” said Dr. Stancin, who leads MetroHealth’s psychology and child psychiatry teams and is the vice chair for psychiatry. “We wanted to provide a single place to go for both physical and mental health.”

The internal medicine and behavioral medicine departments at MetroHealth teamed up to staff a new “Dr. COVID” hotline to answer patients’ questions about potential symptoms of COVID-19 and address any mental health needs. The teams stay in touch using Secure Chat and In Basket messaging in Epic.

When a patient calls the hotline with a medical question, a care coordinator does a follow-up call and asks whether the patient is also experiencing any anxiety or emotional challenges related to COVID-19 and would like to talk to a psychologist. If so, the care coordinator sends a chat message to a pool of on-call psychologists who can set up a 30-minute appointment while the patient is still on the phone or within a day. On the call, the psychologist can talk with the patient about stress reduction techniques and community resources and send a message to the patient’s PCP or consulting psychiatrist about a medication refill if needed.

MetroHealth recently began using this coordinated approach during in-person pediatric appointments, too. If a child or guardian expresses concern about anxiety or depression during a visit, the pediatrician can send a message in Epic and get a behavioral health provider on the phone or in the room before the patient goes home. For example, Dr. Stancin recently cared for a child with autism whose symptoms had increased after he could no longer see friends at school during pandemic-related closures.

“Mental and physical well-being go together, and we need to be addressing them in an integrated way,” Dr. Stancin said. “A silver lining of the pandemic is that we’ve been inspired to redesign the way we’re providing behavioral health services to make them as accessible and convenient as possible. This has been a big step forward.”

Epic community members can learn more about strategies for supporting patients’ mental health from the Managing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) With Epic documentation on the UserWeb.