Grant provides funds for additional clinics

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia residents in several rural counties will now have access to WVU Healthcare’s telepsychiatry services thanks to a $1 million expansion grant.

Chestnut Ridge Center Telepsychiatry Director Susanne Choby, M.D., a forensic psychiatrist, has been awarded a competitive $1 million grant from Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Titled “West Virginia Rural Telepsychiatry: Expansion and Health Monitoring Project,” the grant will provide funding over the next four years. Dr. Choby said it will allow for adult telepsychiatry patients to participate in an addiction treatment clinic.

During telepsychiatry appointments, providers see patients on a digital monitor with a secure audio and video connection. Mountaineer Doctor Television (MDTV), located in the Health Sciences Center, supports the telepsychiatry services through its network, which also provides educational and administrative videoconferencing. Patients sign a consent form in order to follow and remain within Health Information Portability and Accountability Act guidelines.

“A lot of the patients really prefer to see a psychiatrist using this technology,” said Choby, who is also an assistant professor in the WVU School of Medicine Department of Behavioral Medicine and Psychiatry. “The patients pick it up quickly. In the electronic age, people nowadays are more comfortable interacting and spend more time using technology than they do with other human beings. Telepsychiatry is a great equalizer. Patients, I think, feel very comfortable with it.”

The telepsychiatry program already exists in Mingo, Mercer, Jackson, Roane and Clay counties, and more than 4,000 patients have benefited from the services since July 2011.

“We’ll be doing telepsychiatry in rural counties that do not have it, where people have to drive very far for the care,” Choby added. “We’ll be opening additional clinics in Logan, Randolph and McDowell counties, so we’re expanding into three new areas.”

A second aspect of the grant is to establish a metabolic monitoring database for people who take anti-psychotic medications. Choby explained that mental illness is associated with metabolic syndrome and adverse cardiac outcomes.

“People who have chronic and serious mental illness rarely get the primary care that they need, and a lot of times, they fall through the cracks for whatever reason,” Choby said. “Transportation is an issue, so we’re hoping that if we can get some sort of central database up and running, we can prevent this duplication of tests. The community doctor runs the tests, and then we can’t get them and then we run the tests another time. It’s a big waste of healthcare dollars, so we’re trying to avoid the duplication.”

Kari Beth Law, M.D., and Elizabeth Six-Workman, R.N., are Choby’s co-investigators on the grant.

Photo caption: Susanne Choby, M.D., conducts a telepsychiatry session in her office at WVU Healthcare’s Chestnut Ridge Center.
For more information: Amy Johns, Director of Public Affairs, 304-293-7087
ah: 10-31-12