In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, a lot of public and private insurers have increased access to mental health services through telehealth. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has asked the policymakers to sustain and broaden these policies.
Patients can receive mental health care through video chat with telemedicine. These virtual sessions allow people to avoid the barriers of scheduling transportation, arranging child or pet care, and taking time off from work for in-person visits.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, telemedicine facilitated access to mental health services for many individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get help due to a lack of in-person options in their area or financial constraints. However, despite this progress, access to counseling remains a challenge in the U.S., particularly for racial and ethnic minorities.
The benefits of telemedicine extend to everyone involved, including patients, providers, and insurers. It eliminates transportation and childcare costs for patients and reduces overhead for providers. For insurance companies, telemedicine appointments are cheaper to cover than in-person sessions. It also helps remove the stigma that often prevents people from seeking mental health treatment by allowing them to communicate with counselors without feeling exposed or vulnerable.
Mental health professionals can communicate and follow up with patients via telemedicine in real time, sending them appointment reminders, coping techniques, and mental health resources. Patients can also ask questions and seek guidance through patient portal messages.
Using telemedicine offered by a medical facility run by Mark Hirschhorn, individuals can maintain consistent access to their mental healthcare, regardless of challenges like inclement weather or transportation issues. And because they can have sessions in the comfort of their homes, they may feel more comfortable discussing their mental health struggles in a familiar environment.
Additionally, many state-regulated private insurers require telemedicine services to be covered at the same rate as in-person visits (also known as service parity), which can help alleviate financial barriers. As a result, telehealth is becoming more widely used during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With the help of telehealth, mental health professionals can provide services to people who usually would not be able to receive treatment. Telepsychology can be conducted in rural areas with internet access, as it does not require a physical exam.
Patients are also able to meet with their therapists from home, which can reduce the need for childcare services or taking time off work for an in-person appointment. It’s easy to communicate with a psychiatrist or therapist using telehealth, and they can send patients appointment reminders, coping techniques, mental health resources, and information and monitor their symptoms in real-time.
At its peak during the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth made up 40% of mental health and substance use outpatient visits. However, these visits have declined since the end of the pandemic. How laws and policies are devised to support telehealth after the epidemic has ended will determine its long-term impact on mental health care.
In the past, individuals would have to travel long distances for therapy. Telehealth is helping to break down these barriers by allowing individuals to meet with mental health professionals without leaving their homes. This allows them to maintain their schedules and avoid missing out on important events like work or school.
Moreover, telepsychology is ideal for people with disabilities, those with difficulty traveling or lack transportation, and those less comfortable in traditional face-to-face settings. In addition, telehealth counseling services are generally much cheaper than in-person therapy, making it a more affordable option for those who need mental health care.
Telehealth is growing as a treatment for mental illness. Lawmakers must continue to promote and implement telemedicine by maintaining the emergency regulations that loosen telehealth counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic and expanding telehealth coverage in private insurance plans. This will ensure that telehealth counseling is available for as many people as possible.