Americans are making many lifestyle adjustments during the COVID-19 emergency: working from home, restricted travel, wearing masks when in public and the increased use of telehealth or virtual care services to name a few. At least one of these adjustments – telehealth – may prove to be a new normal for the better, both in terms of convenience and quality of care.
Telehealth is not new and surveys show that use was increasing even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pandemic has led to a rapid escalation in use of virtual care. That escalation may be driven by the concern for prevention; patients are avoiding public places, especially doctor’s offices for fear of contagion. On the other hand, doctors also want to limit the risks of COVID-19 contagion and are encouraging patients with pandemic symptoms to stay home.
However, crisis often leads to innovation, and in the case of telehealth providers and patients alike will find it to be a convenient and effective alternative. It is the benefits of telehealth, rather than preventing pandemic contagion, that will drive future growth of telehealth.
The benefits of telehealth
A recent US National Library of Medicine article provided a noteworthy report on the benefits and issues with telehealth. There are a number of obvious benefits of telehealth:
- It’s an effective way to provide care at home, especially for people who can’t easily get to their provider’s office.
- Patients can get care from a specialist who may not be close by or easily accessible.
- Patients can get care after office hours and can more easily communicate with providers.
- Communication and coordination between healthcare providers is enhanced.
- Patients managing chronic health conditions such as diabetes can get more support, more conveniently.
- There is a potential for lower healthcare costs, as virtual visits can be less expansive than in -person visits.
Telehealth for mental health care
Telehealth is not just for physical healthcare; it also can be applied quite well to the care of mental health. A recent article in healthIToutcomes.com by Ray Costantini made a strong case for why telehealth services are needed for mental healthcare.
To begin with, there is still a stigma associated with mental health. Although society is becoming more understanding and accepting when it comes to mental health, even those ready to get help encounter discouraging roadblocks: a lack of timely appointments because of a shortage of doctors and/or clinicians, the high cost of care, the lack of insurance coverage for mental health services and the challenging emotional burden of acting on the symptoms of depression.
Tele-mental or virtual health services are a convenient alternative. Easily accessible and much less expensive than in-person visits, telephonic or online care enables patients to access the resources they need to get help and address their challenges. Tele-mental or virtual services also allow people to get help for their mental health concerns from the privacy of their own home. That often makes taking action easier and has been shown to help them be more open and honest about what they’re experiencing, compared to a face-to-face with a provider.
The Role Of Tele-mental Health Services
Similar to the expansion of telehealth services for physical care, telephone or computer based offerings for mental healthcare are also expanding. Benefits of virtual mental healthcare include:
- Increasing Access to Care – Virtual care can be available 24X7, 365 days of the year. Patients don’t need to wait days or even weeks for a scheduled appointment any more. And they don’t have to miss work, since then get care any time they want.
- Offering More Time and Attention – Because providers’ schedules are frequently overbooked, patients only get their attention for only a few minutes, and can feel rushed to digest all the information they’re presented or be too intimidated to ask questions because they’re worried about inconveniencing the doctor. Online platforms enable patients to proceed at their own pace, giving them a chance to review information without being embarrassed about taking the physician’s time to ensure they fully understand.
- Saving Time and Money – Not only is virtual care more affordable, people don’t have to lose pay by having to take time off for in-person visits or travel a long way. It’s also better for employers, since unmanaged mental health takes a brutal toll through both absenteeism and presenteeism.
- Insurance Coverage – More payers are now reimbursing providers for virtual care. For example, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said late last year that it is expanding opportunities to cover mental health treatments under Medicaid and encouraging states to improve community-based mental health services.
- Reducing Stigma and Emotional barriers – Patients can seek care in the privacy of their own home without informing employers or family members. The comfortable environment often empowers them to share more information that can lead to a better diagnosis and faster time to treatment. It also enables them to become more engaged in their own care, seeking providers and solutions that best meet their individual needs.
Since the onset of the pandemic, at Espyr we’ve seen a dramatic increase in utilization of tele-mental health services. We’ve recently launched TalkNow®, where clients can reach a licensed mental health professional immediately without waiting or the need for an appointment. TalkNow has proven to be especially helpful for clients suffering from stress and anxiety issues related to COVID-19, but it can provide valuable support for a wide range of mental well-being issues.
While TalkNow provides immediate and convenient support, often resolving client’s concerns in one phone call, we also provide tele-mental health services for more complex mental health issues that require multiple sessions with a qualified mental health clinician.
The future for telehealth
We expect to see continued expansion in telehealth services. Furthermore, as depression, anxiety and other mental health issues impact an increasingly large segment of the population, we expect a growing role for tele-mental health services as an effective and convenient form of treatment and support.
Espyr has been helping people – employees, students, members – achieve and maintain good health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years. Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy programs to maintain employee health and well-being. For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.