Behavioral Health: The Next Innovation for Telemedicine

Years of data have demonstrated the benefits of telemedicine. It reduces costs, improves access to services, and eliminates the lost productivity that results from traveling to and from health care appointments. The data has swayed corporations, insurance companies, and even government agencies to contract with telemedicine services. Recently, thanks to insight on the part of government health payers and insurance companies, it has become possible for telemedicine companies to offer mental health services, making it easier than ever for patients to access the expertise they need.

Untapped Mental Health Service Potential

On average, 44 million people in the United States require health care services at any given point in time. Unfortunately, National Alliance on Mental Illness statistics indicate that only 40% of adults and 50% of children with mental health needs receive the services that they require. This is a major problem because untreated mental health issues, which range from anxiety and substance abuse to major depression and suicide, can have far-reaching consequences for individuals, families, and society as a whole. Failing to address mental health needs can increase drop-out rates, escalate the risk of other chronic medical conditions, affect crime rates, and more.

Under the leadership of telemedicine firms like TelaCare, MDLIVE, Teladoc and American Well, telemedicine services have begun to offer psychiatrists, psychologists, and a range of other mental health therapists. Patients can access these providers quickly and easily, for treatment and guidance on a range of health issues such as addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and more. All it takes is an internet connection or phone line.

These several telemedicine companies have answered the call to provide mental health services to populations in need. One-quarter of adults will deal with a mental health disorder during their lifetime, but that less than half will receive any treatment. With a shortage of mental health professionals at the national level, she explains, the entire behavioral health industry is in need of a mechanism to connect behavioral health services with the people who need them. As its answer to this problem, TelaCare has announced that it will expand into “telepsychiatry” services to include seven states by fourth quarter of 2016 and all states by the end of the year.

Telemedicine services are not just connected to employers and insurers either, they are working with non-traditional medical providers to expand their services into areas with high need.

Mental Health Services Are a Logical Step

Telemedicine and telemedicine companies are expanding to offer mental health services because it makes sense. It is not just that the services are needed, but that insurance providers and government health programs (including Medicaid in 48 states) have come to recognize how important mental health services are. Reimbursement for online health care, including video consultations, has been increased to the point where it is feasible to provide these services now.

Behavioral health is a good fit for telemedicine because there is little in the way of a physical exam. Most of the treatments rely on talk therapy that is supplemented by prescription medications. It is easy enough to send a prescription over the Internet, which is uniquely suited to verbal communication and the kind of one-on-one chats that mental health providers have with patients every day in office settings. 

The structure for reimbursement has finally caught up with the technology, making it possible for telemedicine providers to offer mental health services to millions who would not otherwise have access. With a limited number of therapists to tap, such services make it easier for nearly 44 million American adults to get the care they need in a convenient, affordable manner.

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