Though it has been used in clinical settings for over six decades, telemedicine has only found its way to the mainstream in recent years. As an alternative to traditional in-person appointments, telemedicine conveniently delivers healthcare services through remote technologies, such as video conferencing, electronic health records (EHRs) and mobile applications.
In this blog, we’ll discuss how to thoughtfully implement telehealth services for underserved communities and telemedicine's role in transforming how millions access various mental healthcare services such as screening, assessment, treatment and medication management.
Reducing the Risk of Creating Further Disparities
While the digital transformation of mental healthcare services has its benefits, we must proactively address the risk of exacerbating or creating disparities in access for certain patient populations.
Limited Technological & Internet Access
Exploring low-cost options, providing video conference spaces and utilizing community resources for computers and Wi-Fi access such as libraries, non-profit organizations and local government facilities can help combat limited access to technology.
Additionally, telehealth platforms should be intuitively designed and optimized for mobile use to ensure wider access, as mobile devices are significantly more common than computers (85% of Americans own a smartphone).
Low Digital Literacy
A lack of digital literacy may discourage patients from taking advantage of telemedicine platforms. To improve digital literacy, providers should distribute educational materials outlining how to use the portal, the technological requirements for successful engagement, how to contact technical support, and what patients can expect during their virtual appointment and clinician interactions. Above all, providers should foster an environment where patients are unafraid to ask for assistance when navigating unfamiliar online healthcare platforms.
Many individuals have limited proficiency in the language spoken in their healthcare setting. To empower individuals with limited English proficiency to engage with telehealth services, translate key health system documents, offer interpreter services, employ multilingual care providers and ensure culturally appropriate materials are available. These resources help bridge the communication gap, allowing healthcare providers to effectively communicate with patients, understand their medical history, symptoms and concerns, and provide appropriate care.
Lack of Health System Knowledge
Without a sufficient understanding of the healthcare system and evolving service offerings, patients may be unaware that telehealth is an option for them or hesitant to engage with new technology. Broader access to educational materials, information about the healthcare system and available services can help improve knowledge about the healthcare system among a wider demographic.
Benefits of Telemedicine Mental Healthcare Services
Telemedicine revolutionizes healthcare delivery, providing convenient and timely medical consultations while enhancing access to healthcare services, particularly for those in remote or underserved areas.
Improved Provider Availability
Telemedicine allows mental health professionals to expand services beyond their immediate vicinity and reach a larger patient population. This increased reach can help alleviate provider shortages in areas with limited mental health resources, ensuring that more individuals have access to qualified medical professionals.
Privacy & Comfort
Telemedicine consultations provide a private and confidential environment for discussing sensitive mental health issues. Patients can have sessions from the privacy of their own homes, reducing discomfort associated with face-to-face visits. Some individuals may feel more comfortable opening up about their mental health concerns in a familiar environment, allowing for increased engagement as patients may feel more at ease communicating through video or messaging platforms.
Continuity of Care & Cost-Effectiveness
Telehealth provides a mechanism to increase continuous access to quality care and reduces overall healthcare costs by limiting unnecessary visits, eliminating travel expenses and improving efficiency for healthcare providers. Patients can maintain consistent access to mental health support, ongoing therapy or counseling sessions regardless of challenging external circumstances, such as inclement weather, transportation disruptions or pandemics.
Convenience & Flexibility
Digital mental healthcare offers unprecedented convenience and flexibility compared to traditional in-person services. Online services specifically benefit rural and underserved communities by connecting them with far-away specialists, reducing time off work, and eliminating travel time, transportation constraints and the need to find childcare.
By implementing telemedicine services with sensitivity and inclusivity, we can maximize the benefits of digital healthcare to create a more equitable healthcare system that empowers individuals and improves the overall well-being of underserved communities. Collaboration between healthcare providers, policymakers, and community leaders is crucial in developing tailored strategies and infrastructure to ensure telehealth reaches those who need it most.
To learn more about telemedicine and other trends and innovations in healthcare, be sure to visit The Health/Tech Edge, our recent live series event and podcast featuring insight and experience from industry leaders and experts.