The Critical Need for Virtual Mental Health Treatment

Today in the U.S. we are experiencing a mental health crisis. There is a large percentage of the population, over 80%, that can benefit from mental health coaching and treatment, but only a small minority actually see a mental health provider for help. It’s no secret that early intervention and a strong relationship with a trusted mental health provider are often helpful to increase compliance with treatment. However, neither can be achieved without first gaining and retaining clients. Even though the Affordable Care Act resulted in an increase to the number of people who have access to health care, only about 41 percent of adults in the United States receive the quality mental health treatment they need. Approximately 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness, and 4 percent struggle with a diagnosis that can limit their daily life activities. I don’t know what this says to you, but to me it says we need to find a way to reduce the barriers that all too often stand between individuals and quality mental health treatment.

Overcoming Obstacles to Mental Health Treatment

A variety of reasons could contribute to detering patients from receiving quality mental health care such as:

  • Limited access to mental health providers due to a rural setting
  • The lack of convenient appointments to fit their lifestyle
  • Time constraints such as loss of work time to attend appointments
  • Avoidance of the stigma and embarrassment often associated with a mental health diagnosis
  • Childcare issues
  • The hassles of traveling to an appointment such as distance, traffic or available transportation
  • The unavailability of specialty care

Incorporating Telehealth Into Treatment

According to The American Telehealth Association (ATA), telehealth is a significant and growing component of healthcare treatment in the United States. The Telemental Health Special Interest Group of the ATA supports the use of technology in mental health care, which can assist in challenging barriers to treatment.

Telehealth is the remote delivery of healthcare through Internet, email, phone or other virtual methods. The use of telehealth could potentially overcome many obstacles with the use of virtual mental health treatment. Because mental health care generally doesn’t require hands on care, the use of telehealth can:

  • Provide an effective and efficient way to maintain clients struggling with the potential obstacles that come along with ongoing treatment
  • Reach clients that might otherwise go without care or who have refrained from seeking services  

The utilization of online and virtual technology is generally seen in a positive light by patients, which makes sense considering the heavy use of social media and other technology in our current climate. This has led most people to be accustomed to, and even expect, that same convenience in all areas of their life.

Consider the Benefits: Telehealth can offer benefits in mental health care that can result in the opportunity to provide better care while growing your practice. Incorporating HIPPA compliant software for telepsychology can provide a positive return on investment, while offering a convenient method to provide enhanced psychological support between your patient’s visits. Offering psychological services remotely can reduce treatment barriers by:

Improving Access to Quality Treatment

  • Telepsychology can mimic an office visit to provide psychotherapy and expand treatment options without losing the intimacy of a face-to-face visit.
  • It is accessible to much of the public since the required equipment is usually limited to a computer, webcam, microphone and broadband internet access.
  • The use of video can provide the ability to see verbal cues from the client, and examine their body language.

The Ability to Find An Appropriate Therapist

  • Telehealth can expand your service area to reach clients seeking care since many rural areas may have a shortage of mental health professionals.
  • Reduce extensive distances a client might travel for appointments
  • Clients may be able to seek specialty care that might not be otherwise accessible.

Increasing Patient Compliance

  • Telehealth offers patient centered treatment that can fit better with the client’s lifestyle.
  • The ease and convenience of appointments can result in increased compliance and less missed appointments due to issues with child care or transportation.
  • Reduce preventable hospitalizations by enabling more convenient follow-up appointments.

Reducing Stigma Barriers

  • The increased privacy of treatment may prompt a mental health client to initiate treatment avoided due to stigma.
  • Providing treatment in the privacy of the patient’s home can reduce missed appointments related to embarrassment regarding their illness.
  • Telehealth also provides the ability to gain a view of the patient’s home setting, which could contribute to a better understanding of your patient and determine treatment progression.

Growing Your Practice

Marketing that your practice offers the convenient treatment options provided with the utilization of telehealth can potentially increase client volume. These client conveniences can also benefit your practice by increasing reimbursement opportunities with the ability to use telehealth to:

  • Address patient concerns
  • Answer questions
  • Provide a more intimate review of results
  • Manage medications

The use of this virtual technology can result in reduced costs and improve office efficiency. Availability can be increased with a flexible schedule by incorporating the use of non-standard practice hours. This provides the ability to see more patients without sacrificing work and life balance.

Client volume can also be increased with the ability to virtually reach patients that previously might have been unable to seek treatment, such as those that are:

  • Homebound
  • Teenagers within the school system
  • At an increased security risk to treat, such as patients who are incarcerated or juveniles within the justice system

To find out how adding a telehealth program can benefit your practice, check out this guide: 


Eliminate Barriers While Growing Your Practice

Telehealth offers the ability to provide quality mental health care that challenges barriers to treatment while growing your practice through more efficient care and convenient scheduling options. Virtual mental health treatment may not ensure that every person has the ability to receive quality care for their mental health needs, but it certainly puts a dent in the number of people that currently go without it.


About the Author

Dr. Tom is the chief medical information officer at Kareo. He is a respected innovator in the medical technology arena with more than 15 years of deep experience in...

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