O'Neal Lecture – Dr. Cassandra Simon

The Dr. Joe W. and Virginia Hursey O’Neal Endowed Lecture will be Tuesday October 25th in the Willard Auditorium of DCH Regional Medical Center.  Dr. Cassandra Simon will present “Each Life Matters: Saving Families from Grief Through Breast Cancer Early Detection.”

Telepsychiatry: Moving Mental Health Care Closer to Rural Patients

by Leslie Zganjar

In Alabama, 42 percent of the population lives in a federally designated mental health professional shortage area. In the state’s rural communities, mental health services are in even shorter supply.

Thaddeus Ulzen, MD, a psychiatrist and interim dean of the College, knows these statistics all too well. Not only is there tremendous need for mental health services in rural areas, he says, but mental health challenges there are often greater because, with less access to care, patients may present later with more complications. In addition, rural residents often have no choice but to seek help from their primary care physicians, who are already overwhelmed with heavy patient loads, he says.

Ulzen says for rural populations that are geographically isolated or financially unable to travel long distances to urban areas for care, moving mental health services closer through telepsychiatry is invaluable to improving access.

The College began work on a telepsychiatry program in 2007 when it partnered with the Alabama Department of Mental Health, West Alabama Mental Health Center and others on a $1.2 million grant awarded by the Bristol-Meyers Squibb Foundation to improve mental health services in Alabama’s rural and impoverished Black Belt region. The grant enabled the College to begin providing telepsychiatry services to assist the Demopolis- based West Alabama Mental Health Center, which has facilities in five rural West Alabama counties.

Two years later, the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research was awarded a $99,800 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program to purchase cameras, monitors and other equipment to bring telepsychiatry services to rural Alabama clinics that parterned with the Institute on the  grant. The clinics include Capstone Rural Health Center in Walker County, Carrollton Primary Care in Pickens County, Cahaba Medical Care in Bibb County and Monroeville Primary Care in Monroe County.

Last year, the College began providing telepsychiatry services to DeKalb County Youth Services.

Today, the College continues efforts to expand its telepsychiatry program with plans to provide services to additional sites in DeKalb County and sites in Etowah and Cherokee counties, to Northwest Alabama Mental Health Center and to other mental health centers, county jails and youth services facilities in Alabama that have asked the College to provide adult and child telepsychiatry to their clients.

Lloyda Williamson, MD, a psychiatrist and assistant professor in the College’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine, currently provides telepsychiatry services to Dekalb County Youth Services. In the past, she has provided telepsychiatry services to patients of West Alabama Mental Health Center. She says with fewer medical students choosing psychiatry as a specialty, and with the recognized need for mental health care, particularly in rural communities, “we are going to have to think outside the box and telepsychiatry is one way to do this.”

A Growing Need

Telepsychiatry is a growing trend in mental health care and regarded as one of the most promising telehealth applications. Telepsychiatry allows qualified mental health providers  to remotely deliver mental health services to individuals with limited access to care,  including those living in rural or underserved communities.

Mental health providers use video conferencing over a broadband network connection to conduct virtual sessions with patients located at remote sites. Patients and providers are connected through the use of computer cameras and microphones. Treatment is up close and personal. “You can talk back and forth in real time,” Williamson says.

The rise in telepsychiatry has come largely out of need. Mental illness is common problem in the United States. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in every four American adults aged 18 and older (58 million people) experiences a mental illness or substance-related disorder each year. Approximately 10 percent suffer severe, chronic and debilitating conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and drug addition, the NIMH says.

Children are also affected. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says between 7 million and 12 million youths suffer from mental, behavioral or developmental disorders. A recent survey funded in part by NIMH indicates that 50 percent of children in the United States who have certain mental issues, such as generalized anxiety disorder and depression, are not being treated by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional.

The picture is grim in rural areas. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 60 percent of rural Americans live in a designated mental health professional shortage area where many communities have limited or no access to psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers. Frequently, rural Americans suffering from mental illness go untreated.

Children in rural areas are at greatest risk, Ulzen says. Prevalence estimates of childhood psychiatric disorders are generally about 20 percent, and nearly three-quarters of 21-year-olds with a psychiatric issue had problems as children, he says.

Zelia Baugh, MSW, LCSW, leads the Alabama Department of Mental Health. She says more than half of Alabama’s 4.5 million residents are in need of some mental health services but ongoing state budget shortfalls are leaving thousands of citizens without access to mental health services.

“There is a psychiatrist shortage in Alabama. The average wait to see a psychiatrist is three months. And we have a strained public health system that only provides services for 33 percent of adults with serious mental illness,” Baugh says. “There are other challenges, especially in rural Alabama where people, if they are able, have to travel long distances to have their mental health needs met.”

Enhancing the Mission

The College was founded nearly 40 years ago with a mission to train primary care physicians to practice in rural communities and to support them in their efforts. The telepsychiatry program is helping the College enhance and expand this mission, Ulzen says.

Several days each week, Elaine Leynes, MD, the College’s Rural Public Psychiatry fellow, sees patients at West Alabama Mental Health Center in Demopolis, which has facilities in five surrounding rural counties – Choctaw, Greene, Hale, Marengo and Sumter. Using telepsychiatry, Leynes can consult directly with psychiatrists at University Medical Center, which the College operates.

Last year, the College began offering telepsychiatry services to DeKalb County Youth Services and hopes to soon provide telepsychiatry services to the DeKalb County Jail, the DeKalb County Juvenile Court and to Northwest Mental Health Center, which has locations in Fayette, Lamar, Marion, Walker and Winston counties. Plans are underway to bring telepsychiatry services to Capstone Rural Health Center, Carrollton Primary Care, Cahaba Medical Care and Monroeville Primary Care. The clinics also serve as rural health training sites for the College’s medical students and residents.

In addition, the College is working to integrate its Behavioral Health in Family Medicine Fellowship and Rural Public Psychiatry Fellowship with its telepsychiatry program. Williamson says telepsychiatry needs to be introduced into the medical curriculum and needs to be a priority in medical education.

“Telepsychiatry needs to be integrated into the general medical curriculum from the very beginning,” adds Marisa Giggie, MD, a psychiatrist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine. “We need to expose students early in their training and their residencies.”

Giggie, who specializes in child, adolescent and forensic psychiatry, also works with county jails in Alabama to conduct psychiatric assessments and evaluations of juvenile offenders using telepsychiatry. She hopes the College’s telepsychiatry efforts will eventually reach all rural and underserved areas throughout the state.

“Telepsychiatry truly does help improve their access to care,” she says. And for medical students and resident physicians, “they receive exposure to a technology that is expected to be used more widely in the future.”

There are a few barriers to providing telepsychiatry services. Reimbursement is sometimes difficult to receive, especially from third-party payers. But those involved with telepsychiatry say both patients and providers are satisfied with the care they are receiving and giving.

Giggie says she was apprehensive at first about telepsychiatry. “You observe much through eye contact and body language, but I was surprised at how satisfying it was. I am glad I can provide treatment to someone who might not otherwise get treatment.”

On Rounds – Spring/Summer 2011

Special Emphasis Week – Hot Topics

Mark your calendars for Special Emphasis Week from September 19 – 22. For a full list of events, please click here. Special Emphasis Week will be CME accredited.

Emergency Medicine Series – July and August 2011

The Emergency Medicine Series is intended to provide the medical students and residents with practical, clinical information that will help improve their diagnostic and management skills in emergency or urgent care situations.

The Emergency Medicine Series will take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday throughout the months of July and August. The following is the schedule for the first week of the series:

  • August 23th: “Acute Renal Failure” – Scott Arnold, MD
  • August 25th: “Pulmonary Edema” – Ross Vaughn, MD
  • August 26th: “GYN Emergenices” – Stretch Reed, MD

You can view entire schedule here.

Smoke and Mirrors – Dr. Alan Blum

To commemorate the World Health Organization’s “No Tobacco Day,” Dr. Alan Blum will be giving a presentation entitled “Smoke and Mirrors – A history of America’s leading preventable cause of death and disease — and out efforts to end it.” Please join us Friday, May 27 at noon in the Health Sciences Library. Lunch will be provided.

Narrator:  Alan Blum, MD
Director, The University of Alabama Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society

Friday, May 27, 2011, 12:00 Noon
Health Sciences Library

Winternitz Conference: Child Abuse, Past & Present

McLean Lecture Series – Teresa J. Bryan, MD

“Addressing Alcohol Issues in Primary Care”

Guest Speaker: Teresa J. Bryan, M.D.
Associate Professor of Medicine Division of General Internal
Medicine University of Alabama at Birmingham

The McLean Lecture will take place on Tuesday, May 20, 2011 from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. at DCH Regional Medical Center in the Willard Auditorium.

Teresa Bryan, M.D. is an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Alabama School of Medicine in Birmingham where she serves as a clinical educator in the Division of General Internal Medicine. She graduated from the Medical College of Georgia and subsequently completed residency training in Internal Medicine at UAB. Her clinical duties are at the Veteran’s Administration in Birmingham where she is an attending physician in the Resident’s Primary Care Clinic and in the Emergency Room. She is the director of the Women Veteran’s Clinic and serves as Chair of the VA Peer Reviews Committee. She is the coordinator of the Ambulatory Block Month for Internal Medicine residents and Co-Director of the Internal Medicine Women’s Health Track. Special interests include women’s health, quality improvement, and teaching residents to deal with challenging situations such as addiction and substance abuse.

The Alice McLean Stewart Endowed Lecture on Addiction Education is supported by the University of Alabama School of Medicine – Tuscaloosa Campus and the College of Community Health Sciences.

The University of Alabama School of Medicine is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education to physicians. The University of Alabama School of Medicine designates this educational activity for a maximum of 1 AMA PRA Category 1 credits. Physicians should only claim credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity. Application for CME credit has been filed with the American Academy of Family Physicians. Determination of credit is pending.

Enhancing the Education of Family Medicine Physicians

Enhancing the Education of Family Medicine Physicians

The College of Community Health Sciences is responding to changing needs in health care by offering more fellowships for family medicine physicians.

The College, which is also the Tuscaloosa branch campus of The University of Alabama School of Medicine, recently added a fellowship in hospital medicine and one in emergency medicine. A sports medicine fellowship and academic medicine fellowship began this summer, and fellowships in rural public psychiatry and behavioral health began this fall. The College has long offered a fellowship in obstetrics. Additionally, a rural medicine training track during the residency years is now in its second year.

The fellowships are offered through the College’s Tuscaloosa Family Medicine Residency and academic departments; each fellowship adds one year of training following three years of residency. Read more

Saving Lives: Student Studies Ambulance Response Time

Saving Lives: Student Studies Ambulance Response Time

One ride could be the difference between life and death. That is the lesson recent University of Alabama graduate Daniel Marbury learned by studying ambulance response times in Alabama as part of a student research project he conducted at the College’s Institute for Rural Health Research.

By measuring the disparity between ambulance services in rural and urban areas, Marbury found that the balance between life and death could hinge on an
ambulance ride in medical emergencies – and, it may not tilt in favor of rural Alabamians.

Using statistical analysis to study the timed responses of ambulance services in three public health areas, Marbury found that rural Alabamians are at a disadvantage for receiving treatment in the event of an emergency. Read more

Winternitz Conference: Child Abuse, Past & Present

Winternitz Conference: Child Abuse, Past & Present

Please join us for the May Winternitz Conference on Tuesday, May 3rd at 12:15 p.m. Michael Taylor, M.D. will present “Child Abuse, Past & Present: An Overwiew of Children’s Rights Through the Ages.”

The luncheon presentation will be held on the lower level of the University Medical Center in Classrooms 1-3.

Michael A. Taylor, M.D. graduated from the University of Louisville School of Medicine (1976) and completed his pediatric training at The Children’s Hospital of Alabama in 1979 (University of Alabama at Birmingham). Board certified in Pediatrics as well as Child Abuse Pediatrics, his special interests, research, and publications are in child abuse medical evaluations and ADHD medical management. He has performed medical evaluations of potentially abused children since 1982, the first several years in North Carolina and Kentucky, before assuming his current position in 1991. Dr. Taylor is also Medical Director of the University of Alabama’s ADHD Clinic, Medical Director of the West Alabama Child Medical Evaluation Center, and an Adjunct Associate Professor of Psychology.