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Sovereign Health adds telehealth option

February 28, 2017
by Julie Miller, Editor in Chief
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Sovereign Health is rolling out its new eTherapy telehealth option, delivering care virtually with an in-house team of clinicians. The model is somewhat unique since many telehealth offerings in the behavioral space tend to originate with a technology platform that signs on individual private practices. In this case, it’s a large provider using technology to extend its own reach with outpatient clients.

CEO Tonmoy Sharma, MD, tells Behavioral Healthcare Executive that the strategy will help engage families and improve recovery management, two areas that he says “have been falling short of our own standards.” Services will include therapy and case management for individuals or groups of up to six people.

“At the moment we’re just serving people who are discharging, which is a lot of people every month,” Sharma says. “We didn’t want to bite off more than we can chew. We have a director formally talking to all the patients and their families about it.”

Currently, about 300 patients use the service, and Sharma says management teams are encouraged by the initial uptake. However, Sovereign is finding that at-home technology access for patients after discharge is one of the challenges to adoption so far.

“And we’re also talking to the payers about this,” Sharma says. “I recently talked to a major payer about what we can do and how we can take care of an episode. We are looking at getting some reimbursement for case management.”

He says telehealth for therapy services is reimbursed in 21 states. Reimbursement is still possible in other locations, but it’s a matter of working directly with payers to arrange for payment.

Leveraging technology

In the near future, patients who are just beginning to seek care for mental health and addiction disorders will be able to initiate Sovereign’s eTherapy program, even if they aren’t ready to engage in a higher level of care, Sharma says.

“At least you have something rather than nothing,” he says. “And because it’s from the privacy of your home, we feel this is something that people might want to take up. Residential treatment is not the only thing.”

Laws require that clinicians delivering telehealth services be licensed in the state, so Sovereign’s program is currently offered to patients in California, Texas and Florida, where the organization has established operations. Sharma says another phase of the eTherapy rollout will aim to increase the network of clinicians, bringing in others outside of Sovereign’s current geography. The wider network will allow the organization to reach a new potential patient population.

“Our industry has been a little behind in leveraging technology,” he says. “This a good way forward so more people can get help.”