Telemental health in emergency care settings: A qualitative analysis of considerations for sustainability and spread

Acad Emerg Med. 2023 Apr;30(4):368-378. doi: 10.1111/acem.14682. Epub 2023 Mar 1.


Objectives: Following rapid uptake of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, we examined barriers and facilitators for sustainability and spread of telemental health video (TMH-V) as policies regarding precautions from the pandemic waned.

Methods: We conducted a qualitative study using semistructured interviews and observations guided by RE-AIM. We asked four groups, local clinicians, facility leadership, Veterans, and external partners, about barriers and facilitators impacting patient willingness to engage in TMH-V (reach), quality of care (effectiveness), barriers and facilitators impacting provider uptake (adoption), possible adaptations to TMH-V (implementation), and possibilities for long-term use of TMH-V (maintenance). Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using framework analysis. We also observed TMH-V encounters in one emergency department (ED) and one urgent care (UC) to understand how clinicians and Veterans engaged with the technology.

Results: We conducted 35 interviews with ED/UC clinicians and staff (n = 10), clinical and facility leadership (n = 7), Veterans (n = 5), and external partners (n = 13), January-May 2022. We completed 10 observations. All interviewees were satisfied with the TMH-V program, and interviewees highlighted increased comfort discussing difficult topics for Veterans (reach). Clinicians identified that TMH-V allowed for cross-coverage across sites as well as increased safety and flexibility for clinicians (adoption). Opportunities for improvement include alleviating technological burdens for on-site staff, electronic health record (EHR) modifications to accurately capture workload and modality (telehealth vs. in-person), and standardizing protocols to streamline communication between on-site and remote clinical staff (implementation). Finally, interviewees encouraged its spread (maintenance) and thought there was great potential for service expansion.

Conclusions: Interviewees expressed support for continuing TMH-V locally and spread to other sites. Ensuring adequate infrastructure (e.g., EHR integration and technology support) and workforce capacity are key for successful spread. Given the shortage of mental health (MH) clinicians in rural settings, TMH-V represents a promising intervention to increase the access to high-quality emergency MH care.

Keywords: Veteran; emergency care; mental health; qualitative methods; sustainability; virtual care.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Emergency Medical Services*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Telemedicine* / methods
  • Veterans* / psychology