Nearly one in five U.S. adults live with a mental illness – but only 42 percent of them receive behavioral health services. Cost, social stigma, inability to access care and other factors can all play a role in the ongoing crisis that is untreated mental illness.
Many individuals with mental health issues can lead successful lives with the right support. Yet untreated patients can experience social isolation, relationship loss and chronic unemployment. Comorbidities can be common, including addiction, gastrointestinal issues, sleep disorders, obesity and heart disease. Because patients usually encounter police before doctors during a mental health crisis, they also face higher risk of arrest. Nearly 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women booked into jails have a serious mental health condition – more than two million people each year.
Roadblocks to effective care have created an ongoing dilemma for patients, their families and their communities. But now providers are using telemedicine to solve many of the behavioral health field’s toughest challenges.
Connection, Compassion and Cost Savings
There’s a reason virtual care works so well for both behavioral health patients and providers – 10 reasons, actually.
1. Telemedicine reduces the fear of stigma. Perceived mental illness stigma, such as the fear of being seen entering a psychiatric clinic, can stop patients from seeking care. But telemedicine lets patients receive services in the privacy of their home.
2. Remote providers can reduce the shortage of mental health professionals. From psychiatrists to licensed therapists, there aren’t enough behavioral health providers to go around. Experts predict we’ll be 250,000 workers short of projected demand by 2025. Therapists can balance need with availability by remotely treating patients in other regions.
3. Virtual care can accommodate patient comorbidities. 70 percent of behavioral health patients have other medical conditions. Disabilities may make travel to distant clinics difficult; patients who are elderly or convalescing from surgery may struggle to attend traditional office visits.
4. Patients can maintain a consistent therapeutic relationship. Social determinants of health can create turbulent circumstances for some patients. Evictions, lost jobs, severed relationships and sudden relocations can jolt a patient out of their normal care routine. Virtual care lets patients continue sessions with the same therapist no matter how their environment changes.
5. Virtual care can be cost effective. Patients who’ve met the maximum mental health benefits on their health insurance plans – or have no insurance at all – can often afford to pay for virtual visits out of pocket more easily than office or emergency room visits. Patients who can’t afford public transit or their own vehicles can also receive care.
6. Providers can gain deeper patient insights. When therapists view patients in their home environment, they can see their self-care habits and family dynamics firsthand – helping them better understand their patients’ challenges.
7. Patients can form a stronger bond to their therapist. Receiving care in their own home can help patients feel safer and less guarded, allowing them to connect more deeply to their providers.
8. Providers can collaborate with specialists. Instead of devising therapeutic plans in a vacuum, behavioral health providers can triage with PCPs and other clinicians to deliver whole person care.
9. Consistent behavioral care can reduce hospitalizations. By managing mental illness through consistent treatment, patients are more likely to stabilize and avoid escalating crises or inpatient admissions.
10. Telemedicine is effectively tackling the opioid crisis. Opioid-related deaths are 45 percent higher in rural areas– but most treatment centers are near cities. Virtual care can connect addicts with treatment no matter where they live.
The need for accessible behavioral care has long challenged our healthcare system. Telemedicine can’t solve every issue for patients living with a mental illness. But it can extend a helping hand and connect them to the resources they need for a healthier and happier life.