Kaiser plans to invest in telemedicine for mental health as part of an agreement with state regulators

Kaiser plans to outfit mental health rooms with telehealth technology following state scrutiny. (Ted Eytan/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Kaiser Permanente is investing in telehealth technology as part of a broad effort to resolve behavioral health deficiencies identified by California state regulators.

The commitment to expanding telehealth services is part of a settlement agreement (PDF) between the integrated health system and the Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) to resolve deficiencies identified by state regulators over the last 5 years.

The deficiencies date back to 2013 when the state fined Kaiser $4 million for failing to provide its members with adequate access to mental health services. Last month, California's DMHC reported that although Kaiser had taken steps to resolve those issues, it had not provided “long-term, verifiable results demonstrating compliance.”

RELATED: Despite improvements, Kaiser Permanente back in state crosshairs over member access to behavioral healthcare

Kaiser plans to make several investments to update its mental health facilities, including “adding and updating therapy rooms with advanced technology for video conferencing and consultations,” according to a statement from Patrick Courneya, M.D., executive vice president and chief medical officer at the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., and Kaiser Foundation Hospitals. Courneya did not specify how much the system planned to invest.

Although the settlement does not require Kaiser to integrate telehealth into its mental health services, the new technology appears to be a key part of the system’s long-term plans. Kaiser faces a slew of fines if it fails to meet certain “deliverables,” including submitting updated work plans to the state for the next three years.

But Courneya fiercely defended the improvements his system has made since the deficiencies were identified, arguing Kaiser has done more to track patient outcomes and invested in analytics to address quality metrics.

“As a result of the work we have done over the past several years to improve and track appointment wait times, Kaiser Permanente now has the most detailed, robust and useful tools for measuring timely access in California,” Courneya added. “No other health plan in the state can offer anything close.”

Across the country, healthcare CEOs are making plans to invest in telehealth technology, and tele-mental health services have expanded rapidly in certain pockets of the country. Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson has been a vocal proponent of expanding telehealth and integrating digital health tools.