A friend of my mine works for a VA hospital. His specialty is PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. He never talks to me about specific patients, but he has spoken about the challenge of dealing with the thousands of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afganistan who need the help and support of mental health professionals. Too often, vets and still active duty men and women don’t get the help they need, either because it’s not available where and when they need it, or because of the stigma of visiting a mental health facility. But yesterday, TriWest Healthcare Alliance – which serves 2.7 million service men and women and their families across 21 western states – announced that, beginning on August 1st, it will offer mental health services online using the innovative technology developed by the Massachusetts-based start-up, American Well.
As I written previously, American Well’s platform allows patients to connect with live doctors, 24-7, via phone or Web-based videoconferencing. Hawaii Medical Service Administration, a Blue Cross Blue Shield affiliate, rolled the platform out in January, and Minnesota’s Blue Cross group is in the process. But TriWest’s announcement marks the first time that the American Well’s Online Care platform will be used to deliver mental health services.
“Ten to twelve weeks ago, the senior military came to us and said ‘we have to deliver on the mail in the behavioral health area because we have a crisis on our hands,’” TriWest president and CEO David McIntyre told me. “With this online system we’ll be able to overcome the problems of limited doctor availability, geographic distance, scheduling difficulties, and the social stigma.”
TriWest will be rolling out the online offering in stages. Initially, sessions will be held in a military or TriWest clinic, though not necessarily a mental healthcare clinic. In phase two, patients will be able to access online care from home.
“There’s a shortage of behavioral health specialists in this country, and they aren’t equally distributed,” says Roy Schoenberg, American Well CEO. “The military used to have to put 200 on a plane and ship them where they were needed.”
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