Oklahoma has one of the largest mental health telemedicine networks in the country, serving thousands of Oklahomans who otherwise might not have access to services, health leaders say.
About 27,000 Oklahomans received treatment through the state’s mental health network of 140 locations that provide access to psychiatrists and other professionals via a computer screen.
“If we hadn’t had some of the foresight to put something like this in place, we would not be able to serve the amount of people we serve,” said Carrie Slatton-Hodges, deputy commissioner of treatment and recovery at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “We just absolutely couldn’t, and basically with this, we’re pretty much able to keep up with the demand and make sure we have the needs met of people that come into our system. It has been a godsend.”
Oklahoma has the second-highest percentage in the nation of people who suffer from serious mental illnesses, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The state also has one of the highest rates of overall mental illness in the nation.
Telemedicine, similar to having an online video chat via web cam with a doctor, is largely used for rural Oklahoma, where psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health providers often are hard to come by.
About 1.2 million Oklahomans live in mental health professional shortage areas, a designation given to an area where there are 30,000 or more people per psychiatrist, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration.
Oklahoma has 108 of these designated areas and needs 64 additional psychiatrists to remove the designation, according to the agency.
Slatton-Hodges said Oklahoma has a statewide shortage of psychiatrists, but it’s sometimes hard to recruit these doctors, given Oklahoma’s long list of poor health outcomes.
“We’re always in the top five for the highest percentage of mentally ill in the nation which reside in our state, and we also are high in the number of uninsured individuals that we have in our state, so if you’re someone that lives in the Northeast, and you just graduated with your degree and you’re looking to go practice somewhere, those things don’t necessarily attract you to Oklahoma.”
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