SPECIAL REPORT | Telehealth Helping Doctors See More Patients

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LINCOLN, Neb. When it comes to any kind to health care, the mantra is often the sooner the better. But, many of us know it can take days, weeks, or even months to see a medical professional. Now, new technology is changing the way treatment works. And one Nebraska behavioral health group has used it to change what their services look like.

It's called telehealth.

"They have to just go in the office and we flip on the telehealth and get the services taken care of," said Jon Day, Executive Director at Blue Valley Behavioral Health.

Day has been developing Blue Valley's teleheath system for years. It uses electronic medical records, a computer with an internet connection and a secure video chat system.

"We started providing med management here in Beatrice," said Day. And now they're using it for therapy. "A few months ago we started expanding it to mental health counseling and substance abuse counseling," he added.

Thanks to telehealth, a healthcare provider could be in Blue Valley's Lincoln office and see a patient in any one of their other 13 offices, listed in the sidebar.

Now, mental health professionals can see patients in hours instead of days.

"We would decrease that wait time from like six weeks, now to two to three days," said Day.

"It frees up a little bit more of my time to be able to see more patients, especially crisis patients," adds Lorrene Jurgens, an advanced practice registered nurse.

Providers said it's been a positive change, even if it's not always perfect.

"When you lose your internet you can't do anything," said Day.

He said, though, that most of the time it's just fine, and hasn't really changed how they operate.

"We have the same types of routine that we have when the client comes into the office. Just explaining confidentiality, and then of course just explaining aobut the secure connection we have and that it is confidential. And then we just kind of get started. What brings you into the office today?," said Mike Renner who provides mental health care through Blue Valley.

Renner said the major difference is support staff on the patients' side have to help with getting the video call set up and completing paperwork. For Jurgens, relying on those peope is crucial.

"[The nurse] takes their vitals and does all those essential things that you get when you go to the doctor's office," she said.

No patients were interested in being a part of this 10/11 Special Report, but Day said most people who try telehealth, like it.

"Ninety-nine of 100 people who come in with telehealth continue with telehealth," he said.

In the future, telehealth could help counselors and patients reduce travel, and keep consistency.

"I travel to three offices," said Renner. "And what I hope will eventually happen is that I'll be located in one office and be able to have my same clientele in those locations."

Blue Valley would like to expand the program, but Day said he's in no hurry.

"It's always good to start slow and start small, see how that works, perfect it, then use that to expand further," he said.

Day said the one hitch is internet speed and connection. But even Blue Valley's use of telehealth shows an expansion of the service in the state. As it's grown, the Nebraska Legislature has created laws regulating and encouraging its use and access to the technology. You can find a link to those laws and regulations on the right side of this story.