According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, of the nearly 20% of Americans living with a mental health condition, less than half received treatment in 2016. For nearly 10 million of those suffering, their condition is serious enough to affect day-to-day functionality. Untreated mental illness is estimated to cost approximately $193 billion annually in lost productivity.
When it comes to behavioral and mental health conditions, providing quality care in a timely, convenient manner is essential to patients’ wellbeing—that’s exactly what telehealth offers. Telehealth is an emerging, innovative care delivery method that can rapidly improve the delivery of care.
Telehealth providers can conduct “virtual consults” via a behavioral health video solution to provide an initial diagnosis and recommendation for admission, treatment, transfer, or discharge. With telehealth, providers can also conduct “virtual visits” to facilitate ongoing care and support for patients suffering from mental illnesses and conditions. A video-based telehealth platform enables critical visual and verbal communication and observations between providers and patients, ultimately improving patient access to timely, convenient, and vital care.
Here are three ways telehealth is rapidly improving the delivery of behavioral healthcare:
1. Increasing patient access to care
Currently, a lack of supply paired with growing demand means that patients must endure longer wait times for initial consults and diagnoses, as well as extended wait times between appointments for follow-up care.
The U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration estimates that an additional 70,000 behavioral and mental health providers will be needed by 2025 to meet expected demand.
How can telehealth help?
Addressing supply and demand
With telehealth, patients have access to a larger pool of providers who can provide care support via video when in-person behavioral health providers are not readily available. The ability to access on-demand care helps patients receive the help they need when they need it the most.
If a patient arrives at a hospital while no behavioral health providers are on duty, the emergency department staff can contact a caregiver via video instead of requiring the patient to wait hours—or even days—for a diagnosis. The offsite provider can quickly assess the situation and help the on-site staff determine whether the patient should be admitted, transferred, or discharged, as well as recommend treatment.
Addressing the geographic gap
According to patient advocacy group Mental Health America, the areas with the highest rates of mental illness and least access to care are in the south and west sections of the contiguous U.S. Within those swaths of the country, rural areas face some of the biggest deficits.
Behavioral health providers often live in areas with more opportunities for professional and personal development, which rarely match up with areas containing underserved behavioral health patients.
By employing telehealth, providers can extend their reach beyond their immediate patient community and help patients who lack sufficient care due to their geographic location. Providing virtual care can help behavioral health providers increase their impact by significantly broadening the areas they can serve.
Addressing patient sensitivities when seeking care
Behavioral health patients who would beneﬁt from treatment often opt not to pursue diagnosis / treatment, or fail to continue once begun, due to the threat of social disapproval or diminished self-esteem due to the stigmatization that accompanies mental health diagnoses. Occasionally, patients may make and then forego appointments to known mental health clinics in their community out of fear of recognition.
Telehealth gives such patients the chance to receive care in a safe setting—their own home. By facilitating video chats with at-home patients, telehealth providers offer relaxed, comfortable communication around sensitive topics.
Behavioral health video solutions may help patients be more forthright and willing to share their experiences and struggles with the protective barrier of a video screen, rather than sitting in physical proximity with an unknown provider.
2. Improving care affordability
Follow-up appointments can be challenging to schedule and to maintain. “No-shows” can be caused by many factors, such as patients who are unable to take time off work, arrange reliable transportation, or fund public transit costs.
Telehealth eliminates patient travel time and related expenses, allowing patients to receive care in a convenient setting at a convenient time. Individuals who take advantage of telehealth don’t have to choose between a paycheck and looking after their health, which can be the push they need to seek out and continue care they may not otherwise be able to afford.
3. Enhancing care quality
There is a critical need for collaboration across the care continuum. During care transition, behavioral health providers must maintain communication with their colleagues (such as PCPs, pharmacists, and care coordinators) to ensure that patient needs are continuously known and addressed as their condition and setting changes.
Telehealth allows care team members to conduct video conferences to plan care transition and identify the next steps in overall treatment plans. Care team members can also minimize the time they spend in the car by using video solutions to collaborate virtually and remain closely connected.
In April 2017 the Advisory Board conducted a virtual visit consumer choice survey to gauge 5,000 U.S. consumers’ interest in telehealth. Overall, the study found that most consumers are willing to participate in video visits for select specialty care services. As shown in the infographic below, the majority of individuals surveyed are interested in behavioral health video solutions.
- 63.7% would use telehealth for a consult with a psychologist from their PCP office
- 65.9% would use telehealth for a consult with their regular psychologist
- 55.7% would use telehealth for a consult with a new psychologist
Top specialty virtual visit priorities
Telehealth is rapidly transforming the delivery of behavioral healthcare and emerging as a win-win solution for patients and their providers. Behavioral health video solutions provide all stakeholders — patients, caregivers, providers, and the healthcare system—with options for how, when, and where care can be delivered. Telehealth can also increase the overall timing, quality, and comprehensiveness of delivered healthcare, improving both patient satisfaction and health outcomes.
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