Company brings telemedicine to mental health care

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BRATTLEBORO — Dr. Mark McGee, who was chief medical officer at the Brattleboro Retreat for six-and-a-half years until January, knows the barriers and obstacles to getting care and has faith that the new company he has founded with his wife, Valerie Racine, can help people get the care they need.

Alpine Telehealth, a Brattleboro-based telemedicine company, offers improved access to timely, high quality mental health care through secure video-teleconferencing technology.

"Geography no longer needs to be a barrier to receiving high quality mental health care," said McGee. "Telemedicine brings medical expertise to individuals where and when they need it, irrespective of the miles between them. This is a real game changer for how Vermonters receive the care they need."

While at the Retreat, McGee helped pioneer its telemedicine program for the treatment of mental health and substance use disorders.

"Dr. McGee is a talented and innovative physician," said Konstantin von Krusenstiern, vice president of Development and Communications at the Brattleboro Retreat. "During his tenure at the Retreat he played a central role in establishing our tele-psychiatry program, which is part of a much-needed effort to improve access to quality psychiatric care — especially in rural communities."

"I am thrilled and incredibly proud of the work we did at the Retreat," said McGree. "It really is a revolutionary use of telemedicine."

Vermonters in the midst of a mental health crisis often wait days, even weeks in hospital emergency departments without receiving needed treatment while they await placement in one of the limited inpatient psychiatric beds throughout the state, said McGee.

"Additionally, many primary care providers lack the medical expertise to provide the most effective mental health treatment, which results in many individuals not receiving the mental health care they need."

Telemedicine services offered by Alpine Telehealth allow patients in need of treatment to be assessed by a psychiatrist where and when they need it, eliminating unnecessary delays in starting potentially life-saving treatment.

McGee and Racine, who live in Guilford, have first-hand knowledge on how a lack of appropriate and timely mental health care affects a community.

"Like so many of us here in Vermont, we really want to have a healthy, vibrant, dynamic community," said McGee. "But accessing psychiatric services can be difficult, both at the community clinic and outpatient level. What complicates matters further is the reality that most mental health illnesses, which affect 50 percent of us at some point, does not get treated at all, and treatment that is received is often inadequate and not supported by the latest scientific research."

According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is substantial evidence as to the effectiveness of telepsychiatry and patients and psychiatrists are generally satisfied with the care they receive via telemedicine.

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"Telepsychiatry is equivalent to in-person care in diagnostic accuracy, treatment effectiveness, quality of care and patient satisfaction," notes the American Psychiatric Association. "Telepsychiatry has been found especially effective with respect to the treatment of PTSD, depression, and ADHD. There are even people for which telemedicine may be preferable to in-person care, for example people with autism or severe anxiety disorders and patients with physical limitations may find the remote treatment particularly useful."

"I have no concerns about the quality of care delivered by telemedicine," said McGee. "Some people prefer it for convenience or comfort. And victims of interpersonal violence might be more comfortable interacting with a digital buffer.

He said in-person care works best for many people, but telemedicine is extremely effective, especially when compared with receiving no care at all.

Using the latest technology, McGee said Alpine Telehealth can offer quality care that is effective and confidential.

"We utilize secure, video-teleconferencing technology," he said. "All of the patient's personal information that is transferred through the internet is encrypted on the sending and receiving ends. And the platform we use is interoperable with any operating system and can be accessed on a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone."

McGee also said he and Racine are developing relationships with a number of clinical professional partners as their business grows.

"It is readily scalable depending on need," he said.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, telepsychiatry can be used in a variety of different settings, including private practice, outpatient clinics, hospitals, correctional facilities, schools, nursing homes, and military treatment facilities.

"Patients can schedule appointments individually with a psychiatrist or therapist for a live video appointment," states www.psychiatry.org. Telepsychiatry is also being used in nursing homes to provide both ongoing psychiatric evaluation and care and emergency crisis intervention when it may be difficult to find local psychiatrist to assist.

McGee is a board-certified psychiatrist with extensive experience treating individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. He received his medical education and residency training in psychiatry at the University of Vermont and is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

Racine received a Master's in Counseling & Human Development in 2003 from St. Lawrence University. She began her career working in community mental health agencies primarily in Franklin and Chittenden counties in northern Vermont. She launched her own practice in southern Vermont in 2012 and starting in 2018 began to offer Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga practices.

For more information about Alpine Telehealth, visit AlpineTelehealth.com or email info@AlpineTelehealth.com.

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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