Guest Column | November 27, 2017

How Telehealth Is Bridging The Mental Health Resources Gap


By Lee Horner, President of Telehealth, Stratus Video

The prevalence of mental health conditions is significant, especially in contrast to the nationwide shortage of mental health professionals. One in five Americans lives with a mental health condition and approximately 1 in 25 adults experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that interferes with or limits one or more major life activities, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Mental health resources are neither readily available nor accessible for patients needing timely diagnoses and treatment. Funding for mental health services has been slashed. The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors indicated that states cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012 and nearly 10 percent of the nation’s public psychiatric hospital beds have been eliminated. More than half of American adults with mental illness did not receive treatment in 2016, leading to unfortunate consequences. In an article in USA Today, Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa. stated, "We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter and the coffin. How is that compassionate?"

A recent analysis by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration estimates that the shortage will become more acute over the next decade; an estimated 70,000 additional providers are needed by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand.

Unfortunately, many people with mental health conditions are not getting the care they need from traditional healthcare channels. To complicate the situation, severe physical and mental health issues are correlated. Major depressive disorder is found in 40 percent of cancer victims, 27 percent of diabetes patients, and 17 percent of people with heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fortunately, telehealth is increasingly seen as an innovative approach to solving the mental healthcare’s workforce gap by delivering patient care on a timelier basis. Patients are interested in using smartphones, tablets, and laptops to access mental health care. The Advisory Board recently reported that 65.9 percent of consumers surveyed would consider using a virtual visit for a consult with one’s regular psychologist and 55.7 percent would use a virtual visit for a consult with a new psychologist.

Given the projected provider shortage and patient interest in leveraging technology, telehealth can help address the workforce gap and improve patient access to mental health support in the following ways:

  • Consult: The ability to quickly place a video call can be efficient in helping a hospital’s medical staff easily access remote mental health professionals who can conduct a virtual consult with onsite patients. Instead of waiting hours (or days) for a mental health professional to be available in-person, medical staff can facilitate a virtual consult within minutes to determine if the patient needs to be admitted or transported to another facility.
  • Capacity: The convenience of using commodity devices such as tablets and smartphones can be beneficial in allowing mental health professionals to communicate with patients and colleagues from anywhere and at any time. Instead of being tethered to the hospital, facility, or office, mental health professionals can provide virtual consults in a more convenient manner and reflective of their own availability, regardless of day, time, and location.
  • Comfort: The conversational nature of a virtual visit can be effective in enabling patients to access care on-demand and from a more comfortable and convenient setting – their own home. Instead of burdening patients with the need to arrange transportation and take time off for travel and the appointment itself, patients can confidentially access care from the comfort of their own couch.
  • Collaboration: The dynamic context of a video conferencing platform can be impactful in helping mental health professionals better communicate and collaborate with the broader care team across the transition of care. Instead of requiring mental health professionals to drive to far-flung facilities, virtual meetings can ensure that all care team members are aligned on the next steps of the patient’s journey.

Telehealth can be used to deliver more immediate and impactful mental health care, resulting in greater satisfaction and outcomes for patients and all health providers. Using technology to quickly connect mental health professionals with patients can positively impact the timing and quality of the mental care delivered. The adoption and usage of telehealth in mental health appointments and consults will continue to increase as providers and patients experience satisfaction with virtual consults and video-based visits.

Healthcare organizations can use telehealth solutions and video-based platforms to optimize their existing workflows and address the current and future gaps of mental health providers. Removing the geographic barrier between patients and mental health professionals helps patients get access to the care and expertise they need when they need it most.

About the Author
Lee is charged with leading the overall strategic direction of the Stratus Video Telehealth Division. Lee is responsible for driving revenue by generating new business and leveraging relationships with existing clients. As a healthcare technology thought leader, Lee brings over 25 years of enterprise operating experience and has a proven track record as a key executive leader of sales, marketing and professional services for healthcare technology companies. Prior to joining Stratus in April of 2016, Lee served as President of Care Cloud, where he was responsible for overseeing and driving significant top and bottom line growth while focusing on technology excellence and client satisfaction.