Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

5 Factors Influencing Telemental Health: Although Still Imperfect, Telehealth Services Are an Emerging Alternative in Rural and Underserved Areas

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

5 Factors Influencing Telemental Health: Although Still Imperfect, Telehealth Services Are an Emerging Alternative in Rural and Underserved Areas

Article excerpt

Telemental health services are becoming an increasingly viable part of the behavioral healthcare continuum, but industry analysts caution that video conferences will not entirely replace in-person therapy sessions anytime soon.

Walgreens and MDLive joined a growing list of providers to offer telemental health service offerings, announcing an expansion of their partnership earlier this month. A network of more than 1,000 licensed therapists across the country is now available to Walgreens customers through MDLive's counseling services. The program allows patients to schedule secure video sessions by appointment through the Walgreens website or the Breakthrough mobile app.

The Walgreens/MDLive telemental health service follows similar offerings from Doctor on Demand and Regroup Therapy. And there are other emerging choices available to consumers as well.

Telemental health--the provision of remote mental health services through technology such as video conference calling and mobile apps--fills a need, but experts say the solution has both positives and negatives for care givers, payers and patients.

"In the practicing community, we're in an age where people are comfortable using technology, but there's still a stigma in dialing in through technology and taking care of it in such a way that is different from a traditional in-person encounter," says Amy F. Lerman, senior counsel for Epstein Becker Green (EBG) and co-author of the firm's 50-State Survey of Telemental/Telebehavioral Health, published this year. "People are still getting used to accepting that as a mode of care. But the convenience factor is winning people over, especially those who are increasingly comfortable with the use of technology in multiple aspects of their lives."

Moving forward, here are five factors that will define the future of telemental health services.

1 Access

Perhaps the biggest driving factor in the emergence of telehealth--and what will likely continue its expansion--is its ability to bring treatment options to rural and underserved populations. According to the EBG study, a report to Congress found that 55% of U.S. counties have no practicing psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers. As a result, 57% of adults with mental illness receive no treatment, a statistic that climbs as high as 70% in some states, per a Mental Health America study.

"There's a real dearth of mental healthcare providers around the country. In certain parts of the country, the scarcity is alarming. It's of crisis proportion," says Rene Quashie, senior counsel for Epstein Becker Green and the study's other co-author. "Looking at other ways to bring care via technology is a very viable solution that should be examined."

2 Licensure

In order to treat a patient remotely in most states, care providers must be licensed to practice in the state in which the patient resides. Reapplying, taking tests and paying necessary fees in each state can become costly and time consuming.

Efforts are underway to break down this barrier. The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact offers a pathway way for qualified physicians to practice in multiple states by providing an expedited process to obtain licensing in participating states. Compact legislation has been enacted in 16 states with legislation introduced in an additional 10.

3 Quality of care

A study cited by EBG notes that the use of telehealth in rural and underserved areas reduced psychiatric admissions by 24% and patients' days of hospitalization by an average of 26%. …

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