Patients Benefit from UCHealth’s Intensive Outpatient Virtual Behavioral Health Program

Patients Benefit from UCHealth's Intensive Outpatient Virtual Behavioral Health Program

Behavioral health therapy sessions are offered through UCHealth’s Intensive Outpatient Virtual Behavioral Health Program, which helps Coloradans struggling with mental health issues. Photo: Getty Images.

According to Mental Health America, about half of all Americans will meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lives. Access to behavioral health resources is reaching crisis levels due to rising demand and escalating levels of depression and anxiety in the aftermath of the pandemic.

UCHealth launched the state’s first Virtual Behavioral Health Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in 2022, to improve patient access to specialized behavioral health care. The Virtual IOP provides intensive treatment for Coloradans who are experiencing debilitating mental health issues including depression, PTSD, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, or other serious illnesses. The goal is to ensure that vulnerable Coloradans continue to receive high-level therapy and support, no matter where they live.

“We have developed services for patients based on need. Our program focuses on specific issues and less on general mental health. These specialty groups are hard to find in Colorado, and if you find one, there’s usually a long waiting list,” said Nancy Burlak, director of behavioral health at UCHealth.

The program includes three-hour virtual group therapy sessions, three times a week, for six to eight weeks. Prior to the implementation of this program, patients would be seen in private in-person therapy. The virtual group therapy model removes barriers, such as the need to travel a long distance from home several times a week, and increases access to what can be lifesaving treatments, especially in rural parts of the country. State where there are therapeutic gaps.

“We support patients whose needs are not being met in a traditional outpatient setting, particularly those at risk of hospitalization or discharged from hospital with debilitating mental health issues. This program supports access to mental health services throughout Colorado,” said Mica Stone, Clinical Behavioral Health Therapist with the Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program.

For the dozens of participants who went through the virtual POI the first year, none required readmission to hospital.

“There is a misconception that virtual therapy is not as effective as in-person therapy. But, research shows it’s just as effective, if not more so, because participants have an easier time engaging,” Burlak said. “They are comfortable in their own home, with access to objects or pets that help them calm down. We find that more than half (approximately 65%) of patients who were undergoing in-person treatment before the pandemic prefer to stick with virtual treatment. »

The IOP program currently consists of five different therapy groups. The largest, the Dialectical Behavior Therapy group, is for patients who have symptoms of trauma, dysregulation of emotions, relationship problems, symptoms of borderline personality disorder, or sometimes problems with mood, ideas suicidal and self-harm. Other groups include depression and anxiety; adolescent therapy; mental health and addiction; and complex grief and trauma.

Based on the success of the first year, UCHealth is looking to expand the program with additional treatment options.

Patients can be connected to Virtual IOP through their UCHealth provider or they can refer themselves. To learn more or to be selected to join the program, call 970.266.4144 or 970.207.4805.

UCHealth’s Investment in Behavioral Health

Prior to the pandemic, UCHealth had committed to investing more than $150 million in behavioral health services to meet patient needs and improve outcomes. This summer, UCHealth University of Colorado will open a 40-bed adult psychiatric inpatient unit to address the severe shortage of psychiatric inpatient beds in Colorado. UCHealth has also integrated behavioral health services into dozens of primary care clinics.

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