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Connected Health

Geography Should Not Be a Barrier to Accessing Treatment

What if accessing mental healthcare was as easy as opening an app on a smartphone? In this increasingly digital age, tele-mental health — typically using HIPAA-compliant video conferencing on your phone or computer to meet with a therapist or provider — is working to make this a reality.

Brave new worlds

A new patient might not need to visit the doctor in person prior to scheduling a digital visit. When it’s time for a session, your therapist is on your phone or computer instead of being in the room with you. The goal of tele-mental health is to increase access to the needed treatment and eliminate the obstacle of the physical location of a patient. Having tele-mental health as an option doesn’t mean the end of in-person sessions. However, it’s increasingly become part of the therapy options available to improve access to mental health care providers. This is especially critical in rural areas with limited mental health professionals. About 60 percent of U.S. counties do not have a single practicing psychiatrist.

Enabling the disadvantaged

Additionally, digital access to mental healthcare can be lifesaving for those who are unable to go to therapy in person, either because they are unable to leave their home due to their condition or don’t have access to the appropriate transportation.

In 2018, more than 47 million American adults experienced a mental illness. And yet, in the prior year, more than half of individuals with serious mental illness did not receive treatment. Tele-mental health may not be able to singlehandedly tackle the gap in care, but it’s a solid way to improve access to treatment for the growing number of people living with mental illness.

More alike than different

Care received via tele-mental healthcare can be the same as visiting a mental health professional in person. The standard of care for a tele-mental health call must be the same quality as an in-person visit. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there is substantial positive evidence for tele-psychiatry and both patient and providers cite high satisfaction rates.

Tele-mental health is increasingly being viewed by patients and providers as an effective and cost-efficient way to address the gaps in mental health care. However, the availability of tele-mental health varies widely on a state-by-state basis. There is a need to increase the adoption of tele-mental health services among both patients and providers through education and training, which may still take some time. We are hopeful that larger scale adoption will allow individuals residing in rural and remote areas to receive the mental health care services they need and deserve.

Apps to appointments

Tele-mental health provides the advantage of virtual delivery of psychotherapy or psychiatry, including increased convenience for patients and improved provider efficiency. The more mainstream it becomes, the easier it will be to treat and support the millions of Americans who are affected by mental illness. Whether you live in downtown Los Angeles or in the mountains in Idaho, getting proper treatment shouldn’t be a hassle. It should be just as easy as opening an app.

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