What is Telehealth?
We all suffer. We all experience grief, loss, anger, sadness, and a number of other emotional pains throughout our lives. WE ARE HUMAN. In our history, expressing these very normal and expected struggles has been associated with weakness. I am grateful to be alive during a time in which I can witness an increase in the amount of people willing to open up about their struggles, the amount of people listening with open hearts and nonjudgmental minds, and the growing acceptance we have for our qualities that make us HUMAN.
While we as a society have grown as a whole in our efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with reaching out for help when struggling emotionally, there is still work to be done. In her March 2019 article, Alessandra Rolffs points out that almost 44 million Americans experience some type of mental illness or struggle with mental health, yet 60% of them did not receive services. That comes to about 26.5 MILLION people!!! One of the ways our field has evolved in an attempt to decrease the number of people not receiving services is through something called telehealth.
Telehealth is a recent addition to the field of health care. Physician’s offices use it to help patients communicate with their doctors or manage their appointments. Physical therapy offices use it to help patients access their home-workouts and exercises. Pharmacies use it to help patients manage their medications and prescriptions. Chances are, each of us has seen and interacted with some form of telehealth in recent years.
Telehealth in the field of mental health is a unique addition to the world of telemedicine. As you can assume from the examples I have listed above, one major benefit of telehealth is the convenience of being able to manage your health care from your smart phone, computer, or tablet virtually anywhere, any time. Telehealth in the field of therapy benefits clients in this way as well. It allows clients to manage appointments, communicate with their therapist in a secure text or email conversation about a question, and monitor their invoices or billing statements. While these are great benefits, telehealth in the field of counseling offers one unique benefit that many other health services are unable to offer. Telehealth in counseling allows clients the option to have electronic sessions with their therapists. Yes, you read that right. Through a secure telehealth network, you can have an hour-long video or phone therapy session with your therapist in your pajamas in the comfort of your own home. Telehealth allows clients to experience a level of comfort in therapy that is sometimes hindered when going to an actual therapy office.
A lack of comfort is one major reason that holds people back from reaching out for help. It’s SCARY to reach out to make an appointment to go to an unfamiliar setting to talk to a complete stranger about your deepest feelings and thoughts. This added level of comfort through telehealth is a huge pro for many people! Let’s look into some other pros of using telehealth…
The current shortage of mental health services
While there are many people who are not receiving services in our country, this does not always mean that it is because they are afraid to reach out. In Chicagoland alone, majority of psychiatric offices place new patients on a 3-month wait list to meet with a psychiatrist for the first time. Three months is a long time to wait when you are not feeling well! Now, obviously this wait list is in place because there is just not enough time in the day. However, telehealth creates more flexibility in providers’ schedules! A quick check in over a secure video-chat can allow for more time in the provider’s schedule. In addition to this, if all providers near the client’s home had a wait list, telehealth can help clients branch out to other areas that may not be as populated. The provider may be further from the client, but the ease of telehealth allows them to work together electronically!
The accessibility and convenience of telehealth
Schedules are like puzzles. They are often times difficult to coordinate when we have so much going on in our busy lives. Telehealth allows clients and patients an ease of scheduling! Instead of worrying about fitting travel time into their schedules, clients can schedule for while they are on their lunch break or even when they get to their car after work! It’s that easy!
The option to receive treatment in the privacy of your own home
This is a huge benefit of telehealth. As I mentioned earlier, it can be so scary to go talk to a complete stranger about something you are struggling with. Not only this, but many people have a fear of being seen in public at their therapists office. Telehealth allows clients to receive treatment in an environment they already feel safe in. This can help clients to move beyond the stigma, being able to receive help without the fear of being in uncomfortable in a new setting.
While these are some general pros to using telehealth, the list goes on. For some people, telehealth is a great service that can fit easily into their busy lives when it’s hard to schedule time to come in. It can ease their nerves regarding starting therapy, and help them to move past the stigma associated with receiving help.
While these are great pros, we acknowledge that many people may have reservations about using telehealth. How do I know it’s secure? If I’m using a video service, how do I know who can see me? Will it cost me more money? These are all valid concerns that you may be wondering about. However, agencies and practices that use telehealth are required to do so using a HIPPA compliant system that protects your privacy, and from the therapist’s end, confidentiality remains the same! Sessions will take place in a private area where your confidentiality remains secure. As for the cost, we can’t speak for other agencies, but here at Inner Courage Counseling, telehealth costs the same as a regular visit in, and you can still go through your insurance! We use a secure system that allows us to use telehealth video services for your convenience and security, and it helps us to treat your telehealth session like any other session in the office!
While this was just a brief introduction to telehealth, we know that many of you out there have some questions, comments, and reactions to this information, and we want to hear them!!! We want to open up the dialogue about telehealth! Chances are, if you have a question or comment, you’re not the only one! Please submit your reactions to this blog to our Keys of the Week page on our website so we can keep this discussion going.