Imagine what it is like to struggle with mental illness – and the effort required to seek help, get to in-person consultations, and the costs associated with going to therapy. Even when insurance and Medicaid, for example, helps coordinate and pay for care, getting around physically can be daunting for those challenged.
This is especially concerning when you consider that mental illness affects 1 in 5 people or 43 million in the US and that number is growing, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (“Any Mental Illness (AMI) Among Adults,” National, October 23, 2015.).
These millions of Americans stand to benefit from behavioral health counseling and support, but with a shortage of mental health professionals, and the burden of logistics, getting help can feel almost impossible. According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the nation needs to add 10,000 mental health providers by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand, so what if we can find a way to make the provision of care, and the access to care easier and more affordable for all concerned?
Exacerbating the challenges, individuals with mental health issues often suffer from multiple chronic conditions, including substance and alcohol abuse, suicidal tendencies, and physical disabilities that are often tied to their mental challenges.
To help them begin to heal they need extensive medical care and support from multiple providers. A primary care physician may be seeing a patient for a chronic condition and refer him or her to a specialist. But, with the shortage of behavioral health providers, the appointment times may be anywhere from a few months to a year out.
By then many patients simply give up, using the long lead time as an excuse to avoid the social stigma of seeing a mental health professional. As a result, nearly 60 percent of mental health sufferers go untreated, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) as reported in May 2017.
Many hospitals and health systems report that they are grappling with huge unmet needs when it comes to mental health. There are simply not enough psychiatrists and counselors to meet the exploding demand for services – telemedicine could be the solution for these hospitals and other providers of mental health services.
Using telemedicine web-based and mobile-enabled software, securely provided over browsers with simple Internet connections, providers can conduct virtual face-to-face patient visits with video conferencing. These video consultations allow behavioral health specialists to make a face-to-face emotional connection and establish rapport with patients who are able to participate from home, or even from work when they find a private space for the appointments.
Without travel costs, scheduling challenges, and other in-office stresses, telemedicine enables providers to be more efficient, fulfill more appointments, and get the most productivity out of therapists. Therapists, also, can work from their homes rather than spending time commuting.
There are several extremely successful therapy sites already in place today, which providers should follow. These include:
BetterHelp: with over 25 million sessions to date, nearly 1,800 therapists, and over 18,000 testimonials from patients, they claim to be the largest digital therapy provider in the world
WeCounsel: works with behavioral practices of all sizes, from sole practitioners to large group practices, and provides what they call “Telemental Health Sessions” including full engagement-focused EHRs with optional telehealth capability.
TalkSpace: an online and mobile therapy company based in New York City in 2012, TalkSpace users have access to licensed therapists through the website or mobile app on iOS and Android. The company claims over 1 million users so far. TalkSpace also offers services to businesses to help their employees.
With the ease of scheduling and attending appointments from home, more frequent appointments can be scheduled as needed in a secure environment. It also gives rural patients access to care that might not have been available before and can even provide services following disasters in countries around the world when volunteer therapists sign up to meet with individuals online.
Telemedicine offers a viable solution with the potential to change mental healthcare delivery; contact us to learn more about how delivering therapy and other services online can enhance your practice.