The medical industry today is facing greater demands than ever. In recent years, hospitals and providers have been consistently looking for methods to decrease costs while improving patient outcomes. And in addition to the financial demands, there exists a real problem in rural America when looking at access to care. While this problem affects almost every single medical specialty, it is absolutely dire in the mental health field.
A quick look at the statistics reveals how widespread this problem is. While almost 20% of adults have suffered from a diagnosable mental disorder within the last year, more than half of them report receiving no treatment at all. Furthermore, there is a very real and very serious mental health workforce shortage. In some areas, there is only1 mental health professional per 1,000 residents, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, and psychiatric nurses. This problem is especially acute in nursing home settings that serve the geriatric population.
In remote areas with no practicing psychiatrist or psychologist, the responsibility for mental health treatment falls to a general practitioner. And while general practitioners are typically very skilled physicians, they often lack the specific training and resources necessary to successfully treat serious and complex mental health conditions. Yet, it is estimated that as many as 70% of the visits to primary care are due to psychosocial issues. One general practitioner sums up the problem in saying that, “I lack the time or training to diagnose and manage many psychiatric disorders. And some studies, such as this oneshow that I’m probably not all that great at doing so.” With statistics and results like these, it is not hard to see why the efficiencies of remote health care, combined with the increase in the quality of care delivered through this model, is a desirable outcome.
Using telehealth technologies to transform the patient care delivery model in mental health services can offer the solution to all of these problems. There are obvious benefits to both patients and providers. These benefits are well covered in existing literature. The aspect that is not communicated as well, are the significant benefits to providers that work within this model.
- Providers can see many more patients than under a traditional model by decreasing travel time.
- Providers can work from home.
- Telehealth opportunities offer competitive compensation.
- There benefit from much quicker access to specialty consults.
- It can offer a much more flexible schedule than traditional clinics.
- There is increased access to additional training opportunities using the technology.
- There is the ability to expand their service area and forge new relationships with primary care physicians. Collaborative care between providers further increases the quality of care delivered.
- There is the knowledge that the patients are receiving a better level of care. Many mental health professionals are as frustrated with the current conditions as the patients are. Being a part of the solution is very rewarding!
- Providers can opt to work in the telehealth model either part-time or full-time.
In addition to the benefits of providing telehealth, many mental health professionals will find that there is an increase in the level of satisfaction with the care experienced by their patients. The most obvious benefit is that by seeing a dedicated mental health professional, the patient is likely accessing a more knowledgeable and capable provider, and one who will come up with a treatment plan that is much more likely to result in success. It has been shown that this model of care is highly effective, while also increasing access to care for many individuals.
Mental health professionals who are looking for a new and innovative way to better serve their patient populations, while also expanding the scope of their own career options, must consider telehealth as the frontier for changing the paradigm of care. This model increases efficiencies and leads to beneficial outcomes for all parties-the patient, the health care facilities, the communities, and even the providers.
If you are a mental health provider looking for a better way to make a difference…