Geisinger solves behavioral health access problem with telemedicine

Benjamin C. Gonzales, Operations Manager II, Virtual Care, at Geisinger, said the major health system faced a problem that is one of the biggest problems in behavioral health care: access. And while Geisinger’s population has certainly experienced its challenges with behavioral health access like other communities, the problem is compounded significantly by three things.


“First and foremost, the pandemic,” Gonzales said. “Unexpectedly, we experienced a surge in demand in our system just like other specialties. Before the pandemic, it was common for our department to have a few hundred outstanding referrals.

“We immediately saw an increase of up to 19,000 outstanding referrals,” he continued. “It’s important to remember that these are people who have been brave enough to seek help and are probably facing some of the most challenging days of their lives. As a department, we were at a point where close Will take six months. to see one of our providers.”

The team knew they needed to do something about it.

“Second, another important piece is our location,” Gonzales said. “We are a rural health system, and it is not as easy for us to recruit people as it is for more urban health systems.

“And ultimately, in my opinion, we simultaneously saw a reduction in stigma in the community around behavioral health — and so more people were willing to raise their hand and say, ‘I need help,'” he continued. . “Ultimately, this resulted in us seeing about 180 referrals per day. We’ve even had days where we’re getting closer to 400 referrals.”

So Geisinger needed to create surge access, and consider ways to get the patient the right service the first time instead of prolonging their wait.


Geisinger began looking for a vendor in the summer of 2020 to help the health system erect some services: adult and pediatric psychiatric consultation services; Outpatient intake assessment to estimate matching patients to be taken out of services; and longitudinal outpatient coverage to complement existing services including physicians, CRNPs and LCSWs.

“We wanted a team that could not only help us build Surge Access in a timely manner, but also develop solutions together,” Gonzales said. “We pride ourselves on being an innovative health system, and we felt that Vander Iris Telehealth not only had a strong reputation, high-quality providers and strong recruitment, but they were also able to provide a much more innovative, co-growth currency. I was also

“We’ve got 20 or so highly talented, very bright and motivated providers on our team in just a few months.”

Benjamin C. Gonzales, Geisinger

“As a result, we were able to create intake assessments in a timely, collaborative manner,” he continued. “And now, moving into phase two, working on an integrated care project, we think an innovative solution with Iris Telehealth is very much possible.”


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meet the challenge

Ultimately, it was the Behavioral Health leadership team that helped the IT team make progress – taking a leadership role in developing and managing the partnership.

But, in the development phase, it was the two teams that came together to determine candidates, design services, scale, and implement a new intake service alongside these services.

“One of the biggest advantages was getting access to the national pipeline,” Gonzales explained. “Recruiting in the rural market can be difficult, and we can now get talented providers much faster than before. As a result, we’ve got 20 or so highly talented, very bright and motivated providers on our team. Months

“Again, the other piece is the co-evolution currency,” he said. “This was most evident in the development of the intake assessment and the onboarding of clinical talent. His expertise was invaluable in setting this up.”


One result that Gonzales is proud of is reducing the referral queue from 19,000 patients to 3,000.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “We owe a lot to the growth efficiencies created by our vendor team and the addition of Intake to help us deliver patients the right service the first time.

“Another important result is the growth of our team,” he said. “We were able to add 20 high-quality providers to our team in a very short period of time. I cannot stress enough how important it is when you are able to leverage a national pipeline to find talent. Makes an impact. As a result, we are usually able to get people into psychiatry within ten days. Before, it was probably several months.”

And finally, Geisinger learned a lot from the development of its intake assessment.

“We have completed over 4,000 intakes, and Iris Telehealth has helped us handle a tremendous amount of work,” Gonzales explained. “But I think the greatest value came from what we learned along the way.

“For example, what key information do we need to determine what services our patients need?” He asked. “What can we use to eliminate extra steps for patients? In which situations should bypass intake and have direct access to services offered by some of our subspecialists? Due to the collaborative nature of our partnership Our success and ability to learn was largely possible.” with the seller.”

advice for others

Gonzales said that at the end of the day, there can’t be quality of care without access to care.

“It is not possible,” he said. “We have to be very creative about how we reach out to the communities we serve, and we would encourage others to do the same.

“Given the shortage of behavioral health providers, we recognized that scaling access virtually would be the best and fastest route for us,” he continued. “For us, it was incredibly helpful to have a strong partner that could help us complement our already strong, but perhaps undersized team. It was really about us – recognizing that value that can bring high quality and timely access to the communities you serve.”

Gonzales advised that healthcare provider organizations should also consider the other value a virtual care partnership can bring.

“There’s a nationwide pipeline of candidates who don’t necessarily run in your community,” he said. “They can stay close to their families and loved ones. Second, virtual care provides a lot of flexibility and autonomy for our team. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard from our providers, both internally and from Iris. How they have benefited from the flexibility of telehealth, the virtual environment.

“We have fantastic providers who can do things like start a family, care for their loved ones or go back to school while still being able to take care of their patients,” he concluded. “Being able to offer this to our providers – working in a flexible environment – ​​is a big deal.”

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