The health system launched ExpressCare in the fall of 2020 when the need to reduce in-person visits was dire. Erfan Karim, CEO of ExpressCare, said in an interview that the telehealth platform operates on a “convenience care model designed to keep patients out of the ED.” To date, more than 80,000 visits have been made to the platform.
With the support of Helmsley’s grant, NYC Health + Hospitals is now including mental health services to be available 24/7 at ExpressCare, including treatment for psychiatric conditions and substance abuse.
“We recognize that there is a silent pandemic going on and there is a tremendous need for behavioral health services,” Karim said. “We want to introduce ExpressCare’s model of easy and equitable access to patients for their behavioral health needs.”
Through ExpressCare, patients receive on-demand access to behavioral health professionals, including psychiatrists, social workers, addiction counselors and mental health nurses. For example, someone with severe anxiety can use the platform if they feel they need to speak to a mental health professional urgently. Or someone who has run out of their medication and doesn’t have an appointment with their psychiatrist for a few days can go into ExpressCare to get a prescription that can bridge that gap in adherence.
NYC Health + Hospitals is also working with the New York City Department of Homeless Services to launch a version of its new telebehavioral health services that is tailored to the city’s homeless population. The health system plans to roll out that version to 25 homeless shelters and six mobile street clinics in the first year of Helmsely’s three-year grant.
The program will also test the efficacy of four strategies for engaging vulnerable patients in behavioral health care. The first strategy seeks to educate the homeless population about ExpressCare by ensuring that shelter employees who are trusted ambassadors spread awareness of the services. NYC Health + Hospitals will also collaborate with these community liaison officers to learn more about what the daily activities of the homeless population look like and how their telebehavioral health services can be better tailored to meet the needs of these patients.
For the second strategy it is testing, NYC Health + Hospitals seeks to improve access to telebehavioral health services by taking on the cost-sharing portion of that care. The health system is also testing the efficacy of interventions to help patients adhere to their clinical treatment regimens, such as sending medications directly to the shelter where the patient is housed. The latest strategy the health system is testing is street behavioral health. Kareem said it’s meant to reach the city’s homeless population who don’t stay in shelters because they’re often forgotten by the U.S. health care system.
Over the next three years, Karim and his team plan for ExpressCare to reach between 10,000 and 15,000 homeless individuals. They also want to create a model for virtual emergency mental health care that is sustainable so that other health systems can eventually use it to roll out similar programs in their communities.
Photo: Alyssa Zakhoruyko, Getty Images