Implementation of Telehealth for Psychiatric Care in VA Emergency Departments and Urgent Care Clinics

Telemed J E Health. 2022 Jul;28(7):985-993. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2021.0263. Epub 2021 Nov 16.


Objective: To conduct a mixed-methods evaluation of an emergency telehealth intervention in unscheduled settings (emergency department [ED] and urgent care clinic [UCC]) within the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Materials and Methods: We used the Reach, Effectiveness, Adoption, Implementation, Maintenance (RE-AIM) framework to conduct a mixed-methods evaluation of a novel telehealth program implemented in the VHA (Hospital System) in March 2020. We compared the 3 months preimplementation (December 1, 2019 through February 29, 2020) with the 3 months postimplementation (April 1, 2020 through June 30, 2020), then followed sustainability through January 31, 2021. Qualitative data were obtained from surveys and semistructured interviews of staff and providers and analyzed with thematic analysis. Results: Patient demographics and dispositions were similar pre- and postimplementation. The telemental health intervention was used in 319 (83%) unscheduled mental health consultations in the postimplementation phase. After implementation, we did not detect adverse trends in length of stay, 7-day revisits, or 30-day mortality. Use remained high with 82% (n = 1,010) of all unscheduled mental health consultations performed by telemental health in the sustainability phase. Staff and clinician interviews identified the following themes in the use of telemental health: (1) enhanced efficiency without compromising quality and safety, (2) initial apprehension, (3) the COVID-19 pandemic, and (4) sustainability after resolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conclusions: This mixed-methods evaluation of unscheduled telemental health implementation found that its use was feasible, did not impact the safety and efficacy of mental health consultations, and was highly acceptable and sustainable in unscheduled settings.

Keywords: emergency care; implementation; mental health; telehealth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ambulatory Care Facilities
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Telemedicine*