In recent years, the mental health field in the U.S. has come under scrutiny as a field in dire need of change.
Across the U.S. there is a reported shortage of mental health professionals. Need for more effective and accessible substance abuse treatment has increased with the opioid addiction epidemic, especially in more rural areas. Throughout the country, it’s clear that many patients who need mental health care cannot get access when they need it — or choose not to seek treatment for fear of social stigma.
Enter telemedicine. While we may still be in the early stages of a telemedicine revolution in the mental health field, many psychiatrists and therapists have been among the first adopters of telehealth. Ever since Medicare decided to expand telemedicine coverage for 7 mental health services in 2015, many insurance companies and telemedicine providers have followed suit by encouraging tele-mental health.
It makes sense. One of the reasons some doctors and patients may hesitate to try telecare is the inability to do a physical exam. While many mobile medical devices, new remote monitoring technologies, and an emphasis on doctor-patient relationship have alleviated this concern, many medical conditions do require physical exams.
Mental health treatment, however, often does not. Most mental healthcare relies solely on the ability for medical providers and patients to connect emotionally, and to have a conversation. This makes the addition of a simple, secure videochat platform online a revolutionary tool for mental healthcare. In fact, a Price Waterhouse-Cooper survey of patients aged 18 to 44 found 72% of respondents would be willing to receive mental health care virtually, in place of an in-office visit.
With the critical need for better mental health care and the public openness to telepsychiatry, telehealth is quickly changing the face of mental healthcare in four key ways.
1) Telemedicine helps alleviate the widespread shortage of mental healthcare professionals.
The shortage of psychiatrists in the U.S. presents a huge problem, especially as the country has moved towards a better understanding of the importance of mental health treatment. Telepsychiatry has grown rapidly in recent years to help. Armed with tech software to videochat with patients online, psychiatrists can reach a wider geographic region.
A psychiatrist in another state or in an urban area could now potentially treat a patient living hundreds of miles away in a rural shortage area. Telemedicine providers — and even retail clinic providers like Walgreens — have been quickly growing their telepsychiatry workforce to meet the demand.
2) Telepsychiatry makes mental health services more accessible and convenient to patients in need.
One of the biggest advantages of telemedicine across all medical specialties is accessibility for all patients: patients who are convalescing at home, patients who are mobile-challenged, patients who lack adequate transportation, and those who live in rural, remote areas. As long as a patient has a way to connect to the internet, telepsychiatry enables them to access treatment.
3) Telehealth helps patients avoid stigma and receive treatment from the privacy of home.
While there’s a broader acceptance of mental health treatment these days, stigma is still a problem for some patients. Telepsychiatry might not directly fight social stigma, but it can offer patients more options to ensure their privacy is protected. Weekly therapy appointments, for instance, could be done from home, after work hours.
4) Telemedicine is changing the landscape of addiction treatment.
With the rise of the opioid addiction epidemic, the push to improve and reform addiction treatment has intensified. Problems with opioid addiction are especially rampant in more rural regions of the country — areas that also happen to have less access to mental healthcare.
Earlier this year, the U.S. government put $1.4 million in grants towards developing telemedicine programs to serve Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky — all Appalachian regions greatly affected by opioid addiction. Federal officials see this project as a crucial step towards targeting opioid abuse and providing better mental health resources to the areas in special need.
Telemedicine is a disruptor in the healthcare space, especially primed to bring about improvement to our mental health field. With the expansion of Telepsychiatry services and solutions, we’re likely to see big changes happen in the next couple years.