By Nicholas A. Pusateri, Esq.
Recent amendments to the New York State Office of Mental Health’s (OMH) Telemental Health Services regulations, enacted this month, aim to improve access to mental healthcare. The amended regulations added more categories of mental health professionals approved by OMH to provide care to mental health patients through “telehealth.” Telehealth means providing healthcare to patients—remotely—by phone, videoconference, Facetime or similar means.
In 2015, OMH adopted regulations that permitted the provision of psychiatric services though telehealth by psychiatry clinics licensed under Article 31 of the Mental Health Law. In 2016, OMH expanded the availability of psychiatric services through telehealth by promulgating regulations permitting any provider licensed under Article 31 of the Mental Hygiene Law to provide psychiatric services though telehealth. The rationale behind enacting these regulations ostensibly was a shortage of psychiatrists, especially in rural communities in New York State, and the related difficulty that many patients encountered in attempting to be treated for their illnesses due to location, time, or inadequate resources. OMH’s program expanded availability of mental health services by permitting patients to receive services virtually at a location different and/or distant from the mental health professional. Such an expansion of psychiatric telemedicine provided patients with an easier and more efficient treatment process while reducing appointment cancellations and increasing the number of patients that were being evaluated.
Until last week, however, health services professionals that were permitted to offer such services—called “Telemental Health Practitioners”—were limited to physicians (specifically, psychiatrists) and nurse practitioners. The amended regulations enacted last month expanded the list of Telemental Health Practitioners to include psychologists, licensed social workers, mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, creative arts therapists, and psychoanalysts licensed under Article 163 of the State Education Law.
What is more, before last month’s amendments, Telemental Health Practitioners were required under the regulations to be physically located at an office or other health services setting that participated in Medicaid. The amended regulations eliminated that requirement and now permit Telemental Health Practitioners to offer mental health services through telehealth from anywhere in New York State, including a practitioner’s home office. In addition, under the amended regulations prescribers of telemental health services—psychiatrists or nurse practitioners in psychiatry—only need to be located somewhere in the United States.
Despite the continued expansion of the regulations and resulting access to telehealth, however, OMH staff has stressed that telepsychiatry and telemental health services should be used in combination with—rather than a replacement for—a broader mental health treatment plan and support services.
OMH’s amended telemedicine regulations expand access to both mental health services for New Yorkers and medical reimbursement for Telemental Health Practitioners. We encourage any newly-permitted or existing Telemental Health Practitioners to discuss with Hurwitz & Fine P.C.’s health law attorneys the effect of the amended telemedicine regulations on their practice area and business.