Telehealth is a Vital Tool in Improving Mental Health Treatment

By Michael Gorton, MS, JD, CEO, and Founder, Recuro Health
Founding CEO and Chairman of Teladoc
Twitter: @RecuroHealth

In a post-COVID reality, one key area of opportunity to optimize the utilization of telehealth is in addressing behavioral health challenges that may have arisen during the pandemic. Administrators can expand consumer engagement and remotely manage many aspects of behavioral health by collaborating with digital and telehealth specialists, primary care physicians and mental health professionals.

The pandemic seriously affected the mental health of Americans with 31% reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression as well as increased numbers of people saying they started or increased substance abuse, had stress-related symptoms and had serious suicidal thoughts.

Telehealth is playing a major role in providing access to mental/behavioral care since it provides more options for convenience, privacy and safety than face-to-face meetings. In many cases, virtual consults have also been shown to be as effective as in-person visits.

Behavioral Telehealth Helps Break Down Barriers

Unfortunately, as mental health concerns grow, there is a shortage of mental health professionals and access to treatment which is leaving millions to fend for themselves. An estimated $1 trillion was lost in economic activity worldwide due to anxiety and depression.

Only 42% of adults and 51% of children with mental health problems receive treatment and there is an average delay between symptom onset and treatment is 11 years. If left untreated, there can be additional or more serious chronic physical health problems. Telehealth can help with this major concern by connecting children with their pediatricians first to discuss emotional issues in a comfortable setting with someone they know before their issues get out of control and children have to see mental health professionals.

It is now recognized that behavioral health is integral to team-based healthcare. Behavioral telehealth is the vehicle for connecting patients and providers to a wider network, given the constrained resources to access care.

Meanwhile, using telehealth for mental health services is very doable and relatively low-tech. Telehealth can revolutionize the way healthcare providers bridge the gap to make healthcare more accessible and improve outcomes, especially for mental/behavioral issues.

Selecting the Right Telehealth Solution

To solve some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare today, especially access to mental health services post-pandemic, requires a vision that includes high-impact, fully integrated digital health solutions across the patient journey. This approach enables the delivery of coordinated, holistic care that ultimately results in better outcomes at lower costs for patients, employers, providers and payers.

An integrated behavioral telehealth solution provides individuals with confidentiality to access a wide variety of mental health treatments, including psychiatric care, psychosocial interventions, talk therapy and more, all in one place. After reviewing patient needs, the solution connects individuals to the best treatment option and considers preferences such as physician gender and treatment type. The solution also facilitates seamless interaction between a patient’s primary care and behavioral health physicians to create effective and comprehensive treatment plans.

The optimal digital health solution can scale and support traditional healthcare delivery systems by advancing integrated care, risk stratification and diagnostics and bringing to reality improved outcomes and more efficient care.

Fully customizable, these solutions can be tailored to meet the needs of any population, allowing patients to engage with physicians, receive more personalized care, and monitor their own health, no matter their location or circumstance. They also empower earlier and more efficient interventions, supplement in-person care, and provide a true mosaic of each member’s health and the efficacy of past interventions.

The best example is an integrated, interoperable population health management solution that securely manages scheduling the appropriate provider visits, capturing and aggregating relevant diagnostic information and much more.

Telehealth will continue to evolve and be used to bridge gaps in care, especially for mental health issues. But it should never be considered a one-size-fits all solution. Healthcare leaders will need to tailor telehealth and behavioral telehealth to meet the needs of various populations from a variety of backgrounds and demographics. Despite the massive challenge, the future looks bright for telehealth and how it can improve patient outcomes while keeping healthcare costs down.