KNOXVILLE (WATE) – Access to mental health care is getting easier for children and their families in surrounding East Tennessee counties, where it’s sometimes tough to get psychiatrists and nurse practitioners to live and work.

Telepsychiatry is providing a new resource to get kids the diagnoses and treatment they need.

Nurse practitioner Katy Nottingham with Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville normally drives to Sevier County twice a week to see patients and prescribe their course of treatment, including medications. Now, she can usually stay in Knox County at the Helen Ross McNabb Children and Youth Center.

Nottingham demonstrated a telehealth session with Shellie Hall of McNabb’s Sevier County Center.

“What this has allowed us to do is have clients access our services greater than they may have in the past. A lot of our providers are out of Knoxville or a larger county, so being in a more rural county, it’s more difficult to access providers,” said Hall.

Right now, telemedicine, through the use of a computer monitor and a camera at both locations, operating like Skype or Facetime, is serving 36 children at the Sevier County center each week. Providers say it’s a win-win.

“I think it’s important to remember that kids, this is their element. They’ve grown up with iPads and Facebook and Skype and video chatting, so this is second nature to them,” Nottingham explained.

This advancement in helping a child with mental health services is something Helen Rososo McNabb administrators have been working toward, and so far the numbers overall are strong.

“We have served over 200 contacts through this medium, so we’re learning as we go. And it’s getting better and better as we improve that process. We think we’ll serve upwards of 750 or better throughout the course of the year,” said President and CEO of Helen Ross McNabb Center Jerry Vagnier.

There’s a bonus. Kids are opening up.

“The research surrounding telehealth and telemedicine supports the idea that kids are more interactive and more authentic and open through the telehealth monitor than in person.”

Telemedicine got a boost in the state legislature last year with the passage of a bill for insurance companies to pay for medicine that is prescribed through televideo. Seeing the need, Trinity Health Foundation of East Tennessee provided 150,000 dollars in grant money for the McNabb program.

“It affects almost every family whether it’s from a child with some attention deficit issues to adults,” said Trinity board member Kelly Headden.

The goal is to keep expanding the program to help as many people as possible get the health care they need. Right now, the Center provides telepsychiatry services in outpatient centers in Blount, Knox, Loudon, Sevier and Anderson counties.