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Telehealth for behavioral health care

Creating an emergency plan for telebehavioral health

Providing telebehavioral and telemental health care means you are seeing patients outside of the safety and control of your office. It is important to prepare for potential crisis situations so you can act quickly if problems arise.

Before your first telebehavioral or telemental health visit with the patient, you should document the following information in a record that complies with federal privacy guidelines:

  • The patient’s location. Confirm the address where the patient is located at the time of the visit. Note: this question should be asked before every telebehavioral health session.
  • Emergency numbers for that location. In the medical record, document the numbers for local emergency services near the patient including police, fire department, mobile crisis unit, and the nearest urgent care or emergency room. 911 only works if you are in the same location as the patient.
  • A local emergency contact or support person. Ask the patient to provide the name and phone number for a family member, friend, or neighbor who is nearby and can offer help in the event of a crisis. Get the patient’s authorization to release information to their emergency contact if needed.
  • The contact information for other health care professional(s). Ask the patient to share contact information for their other provider(s) and confirm that you will only contact them with their permission or in an emergency.
  • A plan if the telehealth visit is disconnected during an emergency. Discuss with the patient what to do if there is a problem with the audio or video connection. A first step could be reconnecting by phone or using just the audio and not video function on the device. If you believe the patient is in crisis, you should notify an emergency contact. You should discuss possible scenarios when the emergency plan may need to be used. This can include the following situations if they occur when you believe the patient may be in crisis:
    • The patient ends the visit suddenly.
    • The patient misses an appointment.
    • The patient needs to receive in-person treatment or care immediately.

988 is the new National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

If there is a medical emergency, call 911.

Encourage the patient to write down any national or local crisis lines, including

  • National Behavioral Health Hotline: 1-877-979-0901
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: call or text 1-800-422-4453
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: Text START to 88788 or call 1-800-799-7233
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Hotline: 1-800-662-4357
  • Veteran’s Crisis Line: Text 8388255 or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Make sure your patient has this information and knows the numbers for a local mobile crisis team.

More details about planning for behavioral health emergencies: