From working as the CEO of a community mental health center, to launching a telepsychiatry company, Jon Evans the CEO of innovaTel has seen telepsychiatry evolve over the past 15 years. We asked Jon some questions about his career transition, what it’s like to lead a telepsychiatry organization, and his excitement for future innovation.
How did you make the transition from a CEO of a busy community mental health center to deciding to launch innovaTel Telepsychiatry?
Prior to founding innovaTel, I was the founding President and CEO of Safe Harbor Behavioral Health, which was the first free-standing community mental health center in our region. After deploying telepsychiatry there 10 years ago, we started getting inquiries from colleagues throughout the state of Pennsylvania and the rest of the country to help them with psychiatric coverage. That’s how innovaTel got started.
I was fortunate to have a well-planned transition plan with support from Safe Harbor’s Board and the founders of innovaTel. The initial plan was to complete the transition over a three year period while finalizing the succession plan for Safe Harbor. While this was a demanding schedule at times, it worked because of the dedicated team at both organizations. We had a detailed succession plan at Safe Harbor with a tremendous leader who provided the leadership needed to have a seamless transition. On the innovaTel side of the equation, my long term work colleague, Lee Penman, co-founder of innovaTel and VP of Clinical Operations ensured that all of the details and workflow were addressed.
What was that transition like for you?
While challenging at times, it was rewarding. The opportunity to build a talented team that shared our commitment to timely access to the best care mirrored my experience at Safe Harbor. The unique opportunity to be the founding CEO of a health care provider organization is truly an honor.
Did you always know telehealth was going to take off?
Actually, the first time I listened to a presentation on telepsychiatry my first thought was, “this will never work”. This was 15 years ago and I was admittedly not well educated on the idea. My experience with a SAMSHA grant at Safe Harbor and subsequent work with Dr. Eberly (co-founder of innovaTel) at Safe Harbor demonstrated that telepsychiatry is exactly the same as the traditional model and in some clinical presentations, superior to “face to face” care.
What are you favorite things about leading innovaTel Telepsychiatry?
There are a number of aspects about this opportunity to work with the innovaTel team I have found to be very rewarding. The opportunity to build a talented core team of administrative staff and clinicians has been truly rewarding. The opportunity to work with the CEO’s of our partner clinics in 15 states has reinforced our commitment to our mission. Many of the clinics we partner with provide amazing care with limited resources. As a result of these partnerships, innovaTel is now providing enhanced access to care to thousands of individuals every week.
Do patients feel that telepsychiatry is different than in person care?
Initially, some patients are reluctant to try telepsychiatry. They are understandably used to the traditional model with their psychiatrist being present in the room. That changes very quickly once the patient agrees to try telepsychiatry as an option. Our process is to give every individual a choice and to explain that the clinician is fully licensed and qualified to provide the care. We have found that with very few exceptions and almost immediately, patients find their care to be of the highest quality. This is the result of the clinical team we have and the unique partnership with the clinic’s staff.
We have found the acceptance rate consistently in the high 90th percentile.
How do you recruit and retain talented clinicians?
We have a very structured and detailed recruitment process. The candidates are scheduled for a minimum of video interviews, the final interview is with our Director of Physician Engagement, Dr. Liberty Eberly. We look to partner each individual clinician with a clinics’ needs for sub-specialty, level of care and hours of coverage. We have found that taking extra time up front to achieve this partnership leads to long term relationships with very little turnover. We have a talented team of nurses and IT support that provide ongoing support to the clinicians and our clinic partners, supporting the retention of each contract.
What do you see as some of the biggest barriers our country is facing when it comes to mental health access?
There are some fundamental challenges in the provision of behavioral health.
- The demand for care has increased significantly over the past decade and the availability to clinicians has actually decreased. The supply and demand challenge places significant pressure on the system of care that results in long delays to access.
- Regulatory reform is overdue. Many federal and state regulations have not kept pace with the standard of care relative to the use of technology. Some regulations are antiquated and others are actual barriers to appropriate care.
- Payment reform is in need of review and restructuring. The fee for service reimbursement system is not sustainable in its current structure. The majority of our clinic partners lose money on outpatient care. We feel we have a value proposition to partner with payers to enhance access, improve outcomes and lower costs. We would welcome productive discussions with payers for a partnership.
What are some of the challenges with telehealth in today’s regulatory environments?
On the federal level, The Ryan Haight Act is the most significant challenge. The act was passed to prevent the sale of controlled substances directly over the internet. The regulations have gone beyond the initial intent to include prescribing controlled substances via telemedicine without an “in-person” medical evaluation. This requirement prohibits the provision of the accepted standard of care as it relates to some diagnosis and the accepted medications. One example would be the treatment of children with a diagnosis of ADHD and the standard of care of prescribing a stimulant medication. The good news is the DEA has been tasked by Congress to publish new rules to allow for telepsychiatry and prescribing of controlled substances in a community clinic with proper structure and supports.
What is innovaTel Telepsychiatry doing to help with some of these barriers?
We are active with a number of national organizations, the most significant including The National Council for Behavioral Health, the largest association of community behavioral health and addiction providers and The American Telemedicine Association. Both associations have advocated for regulations to support the provision of telepsychiatry.
What do you see in the next five years for the telehealth industry?
All of the trends in telemedicine and specifically telepsychiatry indicate significant acceptance and growth over the next five years. In support of telepsychiatry, The American Psychiatric Association has fully endorsed telepsychiatry as an acceptable modality of care. Their research indicates that telepsychiatry is equal to the standard in-person approach to care. At innovaTel, we look to have a significant role in this expansion while ensuring the highest standard of care and improving access.
What are you most excited about in healthcare innovation today?
The acceptance of telemedicine and telepsychiatry is clearly an exciting trend. As mentioned, we all need to advocate for regulatory reform and a sustainable rate of reimbursement to ensure timely access to care and retention of properly trained clinicians.
In regards to exciting trends on the clinical side of the equation, I recently attended the American Psychiatric Association annual conference and attended the Innovation Lab. The Innovation Lab is a “Shark Tank” like contest where psychiatrists present a unique business plan to use technology to enhance the provision of psychiatry. innovaTel has been a sponsor of the Lab for the past four years and have found the presentations and the winners of exceptional value and innovation. It is exciting to see the new young psychiatrists joining the workforce with such great ideas and energy.
What are you most proud of about innovaTel?
Without exception, the outstanding clinical staff. Having worked in the field for over 30 years, this is the best group of clinicians I have had the privilege to work with.
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