Telemedicine is a fast-growing segment of the healthcare industry. With many calling it the future of medicine, remote care has brought numerous benefits to patients and healthcare providers in the past decade.
Telemental health is one of the most important divisions of telemedicine. Embraced by physicians and appreciated by patients, it was one of the first disciplines that started using digital technology as a tool to deliver care.
What is the history of telehealth for mental health?
Telemental health or telebehavioral health is the process of providing psychotherapy and other counseling services remotely through digital communication channels.
The idea is not new, but rapid technological developments enabled quick and effective communication that allowed the involved parties to exchange medical information in real time.
Mental health specialists were pioneers in using digital communication to consult with patients in remote locations. The only obstacle was that commercial software programs, like Skype or Zoom, could not provide a secure exchange of data. The concern over data security became a much lesser problem with advanced protection tools.
As many telemedicine platforms offered safe and easy-to-use communication tools, people started to trust that telepsychiatry and telepsychology are reliable and efficient options for receiving a mental health diagnosis and treatment. More patients were willing to engage in telemental health, as surveys showed that 72% of the population would use this model for mental health and behavioral treatments.
Today, telemental health is expanding, and multiple ways of delivering it exist.
Why are the types of telemedicine services, and how do they apply to telemental health?
Telehealth is a broad term that encompasses a variety of services. Depending on the patient or the condition, telemedicine providers can utilize one or more of them to deliver adequate care. The three most prominent mental health telemedicine services are:
Real-Time Telemedicine Mental Health Treatment
Live telemedicine or virtual visits is what revolutionized healthcare as it offered an alternative to a traditional in-person visit. It utilizes secure video conferencing for healthcare delivery. Mental health care relies on conversation as its primary tool for diagnosis and treatment, such as therapy, so live telemedicine is not that different from the traditional session, making it a great option for mental health visits.
Store-and-Forward Technology in Telemental Health
Store-and-forward technology is one of the oldest remote care tools. With modern technology, it has become faster and more efficient. It is primarily used for exchanging test results, scanning images, and sharing photos. In telemental health therapy, providers mostly use it for peer-to-peer consultations.
Telebehavioral Health Remote Patient Monitoring
Remote patient monitoring is gaining momentum in telemedicine, mainly due to the technological improvements that allow advanced techniques in observing patients. Even complicated procedures like dialysis machine operation and respirator management are now possible. Telemental health incorporates remote patient monitoring by observing behavioral patterns over video.
Telemental health care benefits the most from live virtual visits. While other aspects are also helpful, face-to-face interaction is essential in the diagnosis and treatment of behavioral and mental health issues.
What are the benefits of telemedicine for mental health?
Telemedicine can help with many issues that the healthcare industry is facing today. The United States healthcare system is inefficient despite the enormous funds being designated to it. Remote care appears to be an excellent solution for many problems in delivering adequate care to all patients, including the expanded need for telemental health.
Among the many benefits of telemedicine, these are the most evident:
- Cutting costs of healthcare delivery
- Making medical treatment available to more people, especially those in rural areas
- Improving the patient experience
- Upgrading the quality and availability of specialty care
With the above advantages, it is safe to say that telehealth is the next big thing in medicine. Although it will never be able to replace traditional delivery entirely, there is an increasing number of treatments and conditions that can be dealt with remotely.
The concern of most critics and opponents of telemedicine is the lack of proper physical examination in telehealth encounters. While it can serve as triage in most cases, telemedicine does have its limitations when it comes to the complete evaluation of a patient.
Telemental health escapes such criticism because it uses conversation as a method of delivery and does not always require a physical examination. As a perfect candidate for this particular model, telemental health was the first to start applying remote care and virtual visits in practice.
There are four primary advantages of using telemedicine in mental health care:
- Alleviation of a concerning shortage of mental health providers
- Avoidance of stigma often imposed on patients with mental health problems
- Improvement in addiction treatment and recovery
- Improvement of accessibility to mental health care
Of the advantages, access to care stands out as a leading reason telemental health is popular.
Telemental health helps with the shortage of mental health providers.
The United States has been experiencing a shortage of mental health specialists for a while. The question remains if it is an absence of interest for the profession or the rapid increase in mental and emotional problems in the population that is causing the shortage.
Regardless of the case, the shortage of mental health professionals affects an alarming number of Americans. That reality becomes even more disturbing when combined with the fact that one in five Americans experience a mental illness every year.
More than half of those affected do not get proper treatment, which could relate to the suicide rate increasing significantly in the last decade. What seems to be missing is early diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders that would help in preventing issues from escalating.
With the help of telemedicine, patients are likely to access care even from areas outside their community so that they don’t have to spend significant time traveling. Telehealth providers from anywhere in the country can jump in and offer assistance to local mental health specialists, or take over the patients entirely.
The continuity of care and a strong doctor-patient relationship is essential for the successful treatment of mental and behavioral health problems. With remote care, patients can stick to the provider and therapy that they trust and benefit from.
How does telemental health help patients avoid the stigma?
Although mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of, people may experience judgment and even rejection in their communities. Even common issues like anxiety and depression that affect almost every person at some point in their lives are frowned upon.
The stigma causes many patients to hide their problems or to try to deal with them by denial and self-medicating. It’s apparent how counterproductive or dangerous that can be. Neglecting these issues can have disastrous effects on the patient, so it is vital to get help as soon as possible.
Telemental health allows patients to receive mental health treatments at home. That helps them work on their issues in private. Once they are feeling better, most patients get the confidence to open up about their condition, but it is necessary to enable them to reach that state in a peaceful and trustworthy environment.
Some disorders can make it difficult to leave the house. Getting help at home, at least in the more acute stage of the illness, is a blessing that was unimaginable only a few years ago. Telehealth encourages more people to seek help for their mental and behavioral problems, which helps reduce the stigma and educate the nation on the importance of mental hygiene and well-being.
Telemedicine widens the accessibility to mental health care.
Even if they are not living in areas with a shortage of medical professionals, patients can have other problems when accessing mental health care. Demanding daily schedules and mobility issues are only some of the problems that keep people from asking for much-needed help.
With the amount of exposure to stress every day, mental health issues are becoming more common. Unfortunately, most people postpone seeking help until it’s almost too late. Telemedicine makes things easier. Virtual visits broaden access to mental health care because they:
- Save time and money
- Allow for a more comfortable patient experience
- Make the patient more relaxed and receptive to treatment because they are in familiar surroundings (their home)
- Enable the provider and the patient to establish a strong bond
- Ensure the continuity of care and access to the treatment at all times
When it comes to mental health, prevention is crucial. With the costly services of mental health specialists, most Americans only opt for seeing a professional when things start to get out of hand. With telemedicine, it is much more affordable to ask for help before an issue turns into a problem.
Telemedicine mental health providers encourage people to start counseling in the following situations:
- Loss of a loved one
- Life-threatening illnesses
All of the above can have consequences on the patient’s health due to the amount of stress they cause. Telemental health virtual sessions can help a patient cope with these challenges instead of amending the effects of the endured and prolonged stress.
To help patients overcome or manage a mental health condition and maintain contact with their provider, telemedicine software solutions exist.
For example, Curogram offers a 2-way texting feature that enables real-time or near real-time interaction between the provider and the recipient. It is handy for appointment reminders with patients that tend to close off and distance themselves or for younger patients that do not answer calls and may need reminding to attend their appointment. It’s also great for mental health providers because patients can reach them quickly, when they need help the most, such as in a crisis situation.
What mental health telemedicine options do practices have?
There are many ways to incorporate telemedicine into a mental health practice. Providers can choose what’s the best option, depending on their needs and the requirements of their patients. The four common services mental health practitioners provide through telemedicine are:
This service is frequent in rural or remote areas. In case of an emergency, psychiatrists can diagnose and treat patients remotely. Since acute conditions need in-person supervision, available medical personnel can cooperate in the treatment under the guidance of a remote specialist.
On-demand service usually mimics the traditional psychotherapy session. The patient can access the provider directly and receive treatment from their home with a virtual visit. It allows the patient to cut the travel time and schedule visits when convenient. It also helps avoid the stigma that accompanies even the most common mental health issues.
Access Through Primary Care
Primary healthcare providers can enable their patients to connect with mental health and behavioral specialists from the office or clinic. That is an effective form of treatment because it applies a multidisciplinary and integrated approach. It is often used in areas with a poor internet connection, or if patients cannot receive the treatment at home for various reasons.
Remote Monitoring Programs
Mental health telemedicine providers can use smart mobile devices to observe patients and their behavioral patterns in real time. It is beneficial in monitoring emotional or cognitive issues as they happen. Remote monitoring programs are also helpful in children's behavioral therapy.
What are the options for telemental healthcare reimbursement?
Despite reliable evidence regarding the benefits of telemental health, including the service in insurance plans is still not a common practice. There is no federal law that imposes such inclusion, and state laws vary when it comes to telepsychiatry, telepsychology, and other related disciplines.
Medicaid and Medicare started developing telemental health policies because of the alarming shortage of appropriate providers all over the country. Private health insurance companies are not mandated to cover telemedicine for mental health issues in most states, although some do because there is no adequate alternative in a traditional practice.
Most patients show interest in opting for telemedicine, especially for mental health issues — insurance coverage remains the biggest obstacle. Even in the states where telemedicine reimbursement for telemental healthcare is mandatory, the legislation can be difficult to grasp, so the providers can have a hard time understanding what the patient’s insurance plan includes and the reimbursement rate.
With the increasing number of suicide, stress-related disorders, and opioid addiction crisis, there is an urgent need for democratization of mental health care. Telemedicine is an efficient solution to most of these problems, so expect officials to react swiftly and provide an adequate response by mandating reimbursement for telemental healthcare.
When you decide to deliver remote mental healthcare, make sure you have the tools necessary to provide exceptional, life-changing care.
Curogram is an effective and highly efficient platform for telehealth mental health.
Telemedicine depends heavily on technology. That is why healthcare providers must choose a telemedicine platform carefully. Reliable and easy-to-use software is the basis of telehealth practice.
Curogram offers comprehensive solutions that enable mental health practitioners to focus on patients. The below table shows some of the benefits of Curogram’s telehealth platform. And since HIPAA does not differentiate between telemedicine and traditional practice when it comes to rules of practice, providers must make sure that their telemedicine communication channels are secure and HIPAA compliant, of which Curogram provides 100%. Doctor-patient confidentiality and patient information privacy are sacred in medical practice, and nothing less is acceptable in telehealth.
Clinical documentation is sensitive. Telemedicine providers, including mental health specialists, are mandated to keep precise and comprehensive records on every patient that they see. That is why it’s essential to team up with a company like Curogram that can help integrate a telemedicine platform with other medical software or EHRs.
Choosing Curogram guarantees you a reliable partner in end-to-end telemedicine solutions. We support practitioners during the transition every step of the way. With us, you can be sure that telemental health technology is secure and efficient, and that patients are safe and satisfied. Start your free trial now and check out all the fantastic features!