Telehealth For Behavioral Health Clinics

This image is of a woman holding a smiley and angry face to illustrate behavioral health
telehealth for behavioral health

In 2019, the non-profit Mental Health America estimated that approximately 50 million people were living in the United States with a mental illness. According to their research, less than half received the mental health treatment they required. [1]

These statistics would change for the worse as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the country and cities issued blanket lockdown orders. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, almost 41% of adults reported experiencing symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorders as they struggled to cope with feelings of isolation and loneliness.[2]

Without access to in-person therapy, many people turned to telehealth services to access the care they required. The use of telehealth for behavioral health surged, which is not surprising. Behavioral health treatment modalities focus on regulating cognitive habits – a highly effective approach in treating depression and anxiety.

  

What is Telehealth?  

According to the Health Resource Services Administration, telehealth is defined as the “use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration.” [3] 

Although a rudimentary form of telehealth was first used in experiments during the 1950s, it wasn’t until the late 90s when the internet became a staple of modern life that telehealth started seeing its first real applications.  

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of telehealth visits increased by over 154% compared to the previous year. Since psychiatry and behavioral health require no physical exams, the application of telehealth proved very effective. In fact, a study conducted by Milbank Memorial Fund found telehealth visits to be just as effective as in-person consultations for behavioral health. [4]

Types of Teletherapy for Behavioral Health   

According to TIME Magazine, before the pandemic, 63% of psychiatrists and behavioral health specialists did not use virtual therapy at all. However, after the onset of COVID-19, that number shrunk to less than 2%.[5] Furthermore, a survey found that of the 43% of Americans who have used telehealth services, 82% report that they love it.[6]

With the popularity and use of virtual care on the rise in the field of behavioral health, many telehealth providers have adapted their platforms to support group therapy sessions, individual therapy sessions, and telehealth for substance abuse treatment. 

Group Teletherapy  

Group teletherapy can help build a sense of community and relieve feelings of social isolation. In a controlled setting, patients can learn how to express their issues and accept criticism in a healthy manner. 

Group teletherapy is especially beneficial for individuals living in remote or rural areas who are more likely to experience feelings of isolation and loneliness.  

Individual Teletherapy  

Individual therapy is the most common type of mental health counseling. Using telehealth technology, patients can consult with a behavioral health specialist from the comfort of home. 

Patients can work through their issues, develop coping skills, and learn cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help them be more in control of their own thought processes.  

Telehealth for Substance Abuse

According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic, telehealth for substance abuse treatment has proven highly successful for many patients, resulting in reduced depression, improved quality of life, and increased patient retention.[7]

In the wake of COVID-19, it is especially important to ensure that there are virtual addiction counseling options available as many people struggle with stress and feelings of isolation which are often catalysts for substance abuse.

Benefits of Telehealth for Behavioral Health 

Telehealth for behavioral health can remove barriers to care for many patients. By implementing telehealth in their clinics, behavioral health organizations can: 

  • Reduce stigma 
  • Reduce transportation barriers 
  • Reduce time off work and the need for childcare for patients
  • Make care more accessible for patients resulting in greater retention 
  • Improve access to care in rural or remote areas  

Effectiveness of Telehealth for Behavioral Health   

According to a recent study, mental health services were the most common use of telehealth during the pandemic. As depression rates skyrocketed and people grappled with anxiety, the findings show that more patients used telehealth for behavioral rather than physical conditions – and to great success.[8]  

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) asserts that virtual care is just as effective as an in-person screening in diagnostic accuracy, treatment effectiveness, and patient satisfaction. It’s proven to be especially effective in the treatment of PTSD, depression, and ADHD. 

The APA even goes so far as to claim that telehealth is even more effective than in-person care in the treatment of certain conditions such as autism and severe anxiety.[9]

Implementing Telehealth for Behavioral Health Clinics 

Telehealth can be a great addition to treatment programs at behavioral health clinics, helping to boost revenue and reach new patients. If you’re looking to implement telehealth at a behavioral health clinic, there are a few steps you should take first: 

Research Your State Laws

Implementing telehealth at a behavioral health clinic will require you to learn your state laws regarding virtual care. If you’re planning to treat patients across state lines, it is best you familiarize yourself with the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (ICML). The ICML is an agreement currently between 29 states that provides an expedited pathway to licensure for medical practitioners that meet certain eligibility requirements.  

If you’re planning to prescribe controlled substances via telehealth, make sure you contact your state medical board for advice. Even though the DEA has eased many restrictions on telehealth prescription writing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is best to visit their website for more up-to-date information. 

Choose a Telehealth Platform 

It’s important to ensure that the telehealth platform you choose meets the administrative, physical, and technical safeguards of the HIPAA Security Rule. The HIPAA Security Rule is intended to protect electronic patient health information (ePHI) from being compromised. If you’re interested in learning more about the requirements of HIPAA when it comes to video conferencing, read on here

If you’ve considered implementing telehealth at your organization, you’ve probably wondered if apps such as Facetime, Skype, and Zoom are HIPAA compliant. Facetime and Skype are not compliant but Zoom does meet some of the requirements of HIPAA. However, Zoom lacks the key features required to support a fully functioning virtual care clinic such as EHR integration, co-pay collection, appointment schedulers, and digital patient intake.  

The Beam Solution

Beam is the telehealth platform of choice for behavioral health organizations looking for a high-quality, yet cost-effective virtual care solution. Our platform has several built-in features specifically designed to support telehealth for behavioral health clinics such as individual volume control and group therapy sessions with up to 12 patients. For more information and to schedule a quick demo, click here

Sources: 

  1. https://mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america 
  2. https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/#:~:text=During%20the%20COVID%2D19%20pandemic,largely%20stable%20since%20spring%202020 
  3. https://www.hhs.gov/hipaa/for-professionals/faq/3015/what-is-telehealth/index.html 
  4. https://www.milbank.org/publications/telebehavioral-health-an-effective-alternative-to-in-person-care/ 
  5. https://time.com/5883704/teletherapy-coronavirus/ 
  6. https://info.updox.com/hubfs/1updox_teledoc_info_cz.pdf  
  7. https://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/education/bcr/addiction-research/telehealth-addiction-treatment 
  8. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-06358-0 
  9. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-telepsychiatry 

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *