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Telehealth is here to stay — what do I need to know?

Updated: Mar 15, 2021

Along with the many increasing mental health issues, 2020 has brought changes to the healthcare system and a crucial transition to telemedicine. In fact, it's estimated that 20% of all doctor visits occurred virtually in 2020 and this is expected to grow exponentially. In a sign that this trend is permanent, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unanimously approved $200 million in telehealth funding in August of 2020. In that same month, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced proposed changes to expand telehealth permanently.

Open Mind Health explores the benefits of mental telehealth care and provides an overview of guidance on ensuring the quality of at-home visits.

Telehealth care advantages are numerous, including the ease-of-use, flexibility, and the reduction in costs for services. However, there are also more far-reaching societal benefits such as leveling healthcare inequities by increasing access to specialists, especially for those in rural or underserved communities. As Dr. Craig Beach, CEO/Chief Medical Officer at Open Mind Health says, “Telepsychiatry and teletherapy substantially reduces the grossly unequal geographic distribution of health care providers and resources. In addition to greater efficiency, telehealth sessions have also been shown to provide high levels of diagnostic reliability, patient satisfaction, and improved outcomes.”

As it relates to mental health, it can also be much more comfortable and provide more privacy for the patient to speak with a professional from the comfort of their own home. Research shows that 62% of patients prefer a virtual mental health visit versus one in person. Also, patients avoid missing care due to transportation issues or familial obligations. And in some cases, people suffering from certain types of severe mental health issues such as depression or trauma are unable to leave their homes due to their illness.

So, what should patients look for while seeking treatment?

Dr. Beach advises “performing your due diligence” in the same way you would if you were seeking treatment at a physical location. Research the professional's experience and credentials to deliver mental health services virtually. Ask about how they organize their treatment process since some patients require more of a structured plan. Lastly, inquire about how their services are delivered. Some counseling done via chat or email without any video can severely limit the treatment's successful outcomes.

Many of the newer telehealth companies are offering mental health services that don’t go beyond short-term relief of the client’s symptoms and fail to dive deeper into fully understanding what is actually causing the client’s distress. Finding a better level of telehealth providers who work to find the root cause of those indicators will help to successfully develop long-term solutions along with treating the presenting symptoms. Make sure to look for providers with higher qualifications and who offer customized, targeted, evidenced-based treatments with reliable outcomes.

Make sure to look for providers with higher qualifications and who offer customized, targeted, evidenced-based treatments with reliable outcomes.

Access and delivery of telehealth services are predicted to continue to increase dramatically and it is critical to evaluate whether those services meet your needs as a patient. As part of their initial assessment, providers should ascertain whether telemedicine is appropriate. For example, some older people may find telehealth too confusing or undesirable to use the technology for a visit. Patients with severe dementia or psychosis may require accompaniment by a loved one or another provider or do best in person. Safety considerations must always be prioritized and may favor in-person sessions if a patient is acutely suicidal or agitated.

In summary, there is no doubt that teletherapy has significant benefits and is here to stay and will continue to profoundly change how many people receive their care in the future. Perhaps Stephanie Robinson, Psychotherapist and Chief of Quality and Client Experience, summarized it best when she commented, "Acceptance by patients has been very positive overall. Telemedicine is innovative and meets the needs of certain populations much more effectively. I had the pleasure of working with an organic farmer in a remote town who felt that his weekly therapy sessions would not have been possible without the option of virtual visits. It feels very satisfying to know that I can help even more people now.”

Look for our next Open Mind Health blog where we cover in-depth tips to finding the right telehealth provider.

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