AWARE has always taken pride in being an early adopter of technology. This is evidenced by our approach to embracing a telepsychiatry network back in 1998, long before it was a widely accepted practice.
Using similar technology and building from that approach, AWARE has implemented a telehealth pilot project in its youth mental health homes in Missoula, Montana, that allows residents and staff to communicate virtually with an array of medical professionals from the comfort of their own living space.
It Began with an AmeriCorps Vista
This project originally began with Miranda Chen, an AmeriCorps Vista member, working with AWARE to identify unmet mental health needs in Montana and to create strategies to reach vulnerable populations with modern health technology.
The emphasis of the project was to focus on self-scheduling and virtual participation in appointments. This would give youth a more active hand in their own treatment and set them up for post-discharge success. It also provides an avenue for remote aftercare aligned with the much-anticipated Family First Act.
Then A Well-Timed Pandemic Struck
In the midst of reviewing the telehealth proposal, the impact of COVID-19 was taking its toll on the world. This streamlined virtual care and opened the door to many possibilities including forms of reimbursement for telehealth services across the entire mental and behavioral health fields. With rapid shifts toward virtualized services, AWARE was well-poised to adapt and began looking at the possibility of telehealth in all service lines.
Today’s Pilot in Missoula
During the last couple of months, AWARE’s Missoula homes have been the testing ground for an array of iPad and laptops that use platforms like Zoom combined with scheduling software for appointments and meetings. This allows both clients and employees to stay connected with medical professionals, guardians/family members, case managers, and any others involved in an individual’s treatment.
Of course, it’s taken some patience and training to get to a place where everyone is comfortable and capable of interacting through virtual means, but it has been worth it according to both residents and staff. Telehealth offers conveniences like reduced vehicle trips and fewer missed appointments. More importantly, though, it promotes client empowerment, which brings us closer to achieving our mission of helping people live independent lives.