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Growing use of telemedicine helps Oklahoma deliver mental health care

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: August 1, 2014

STATISTICS related to mental health in Oklahoma are discouraging. Turning them around is a daunting task. Telemedicine is helping make a dent.

Oklahoma is a big state that can use more doctors in every field. Certainly that’s the case in mental health. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation placed Oklahoma among the bottom 10 states for the population’s access to mental health professionals (Kaiser found only one state, Rhode Island, with enough mental health workers).

However, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services makes considerable use of video-conferencing technology to deliver services across the state. The agency oversees 141 telemedicine sites through its Oklahoma TeleHealth Network. During a presentation to a legislative interim study last fall, Director Terri White noted that the agency has been cited by the American Telemedicine Association as the largest network of its kind that specializes in behavioral health.

There are many reasons to provide mental health services wherever and however possible. The state ranks No. 2 nationally in the number of its residents who suffer from mental illness. According to the ODMHSAS, mental disorders are the third-leading cause of chronic disease in Oklahoma, behind pulmonary conditions and hypertension. Far too many adults and children who need treatment services aren’t getting them. Consequently the state suffers from a high suicide rate, too much abuse of drugs and alcohol, and crowded prisons.

Videoconferencing is particularly useful in rural parts of the state, where doctor shortages tend to be more acute than they are in urban areas. And it’s making an impact.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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