This month’s tragic shooting in Oregon has reignited the conversation around mental illness, how it is addressed and how it is treated. In the time since the event, media networks from CNN to HBO discussed the topic at length. One thing has become very clear, better access to treatment is crucial.
Our healthcare system has undergone dramatic and sweeping changes in recent years, one such change that took place in 2014 was adoption of a telemedicine policy that helps further the delivery of convenient, clinically meaningful video-based interactions between physicians and patients.
Telemedicine or virtual care is a practice we’re familiar with and bullish on here at Vidyo. The behavioral health field was one of the earliest adopters of telemedicine practices and as such, there exist well-documented results of telemedicine-based treatment, often referred to as telemental health.
Behavioral health care in the U.S. is generally harder to access than other health services, due to factors like a shortage of qualified behavioral health providers and coverage limits by public and private payers. According to the U.S. Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services, nearly 80 million Americans live in a mental health professional shortage area1. This includes rural communities and urban environments, where cost, transportation and time commitments prevent people from seeking care. Compounding this issue are stigmas and feelings of embarrassment that prevent patients from seeking out treatment in the first place and reduce the likelihood of patients attending regular appointments.
Telemental health practices, however, can help address some of these issues by enabling the patient to seek out and connect with a physician via a video conference from the privacy and convenience of their own home. Despite not being in-person with a physician, it is well documented that Internet-based therapy does not sacrifice the quality of care received and produces positive outcomes.
A four-year study conducted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showed significant decreases in the number of inpatient psychiatric admissions and hospital stays for patients using telemental health services. On average, telemental health was attributed to the decrease of patients’ hospitalization utilization by approximately 25%. Since making mental health services more accessible through the use of telehealth, the VA has documented nearly 500,000 telemental health encounters.2
A second study conducted by 20 researchers in Spain with patients in the Canary Islands produced results demonstrating that telepsychiatry treatment via videoconferencing was as effective as in-person psychiatric treatment and an effective means of delivering mental health services to psychiatric outpatients living in remote areas with limited resources.2
From diabetes management to behavioral health therapy, the potential for telemedicine is reaching an inflection point with physicians and patients alike, and policy makers have begun to take notice.
Today, 39 states have some form of coverage and reimbursement for mental health services provided via video conferencing, although state policies for telemental health vary in specificity and scope.
Awareness is essential to adoption of any new technology. With the issue of mental health once again part of national discourse, we can’t help but ask the question; isn’t it time for telemedicine and telemental health to be a part of the discussion?