By Gene Woods

One out of five Americans, or over 40 million people, struggle with behavioral health each day. In my state of North Carolina alone, every 2.5 minutes a person in behavioral crisis visits an emergency department. To better serve the needs of our patients and community, at Carolinas HealthCare System we have found that, by using innovative virtual solutions, we can extend the care we provide. CHS clinicians and staff have found that patients are receptive to communicating virtually and receiving care.

Virtual Behavioral Health Integration. At CHS, our behavioral health integration program, launched in 2014, uses a virtual model that provides timely access, expands services and reaches more primary care patients. With licensed social workers and health coaches working under the direction of a psychiatrist, the program includes a virtual call center, telephonic outreach and support to manage patients between visits. In April 2017, CHS received an Award of Excellence from the National Council for Behavioral Health for “excellence in whole person care.”

Virtual Emergency Behavioral Health Management. CHS formally launched telepsychiatry services in 2011, which provide video assessments and serve 21 EDs within the health system. Clinicians provide services 24/7 and complete 900 to 1,000 psychiatric evaluations each month. Patient placement further supports this service, averaging 800 to 900 placements into inpatient behavioral health facilities each month. In 2016, CHS received an Award of Excellence from the National Council for Behavioral Health for “excellence in health information technology.”

Our health system is now working to assist other organizations to replicate our model to build virtual behavioral health platforms. For more information, contact Christopher Coughlin, business manager of the Carolinas Behavioral Health Collaborative, at

A YouTube video “Increasing access to mental services through behavioral health integration” highlights stories from our program at Carolinas HealthCare System. More resources on behavioral health are available at

Woods is president and CEO of Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, NC, and chairman of the AHA.