By Lawrence Gleit, EVP & General Manager, Behavioral Health, MDLIVE
In a given year, one in five American adults is diagnosed with a mental health disorder. And more than half (56 percent) of the U.S. adults with a mental health condition do not receive proper treatment. While there are multiple reasons and issues keeping people from receiving proper treatment today, one variable leading to this statistic is access to quality care. Consider, for example:
Improving mental health in America is not a simple, one-time fix. It requires a re-thinking of how we define healthcare to include behavioral health, moving beyond the stigma so people feel comfortable seeking care, and the coming together of multiple stakeholders and experts to develop new ways to deliver that care.
While the industry works to address the issues that prevent widespread and comprehensive behavioral health services, many providers are looking to improve access to quality mental health care through telemedicine.
The Benefits Of Virtual Mental Health Programs
Data show virtual mental health counseling is at least as effective — and in some cases, more than — treating depression as traditional face-to-face. A University of Zurich study divided a group of 62 patients in half and found depression was eased in 53 percent of those given online therapy, compared to 50 percent who had in-person counseling. Three months after completing the study, 57 percent of online patients showed no signs of depression compared to 42 percent with conventional therapy (Journal of Affective Disorders, 2013).
Additionally, a four-year Johns Hopkins study that included close to 100,000 veterans found the number of days patients were hospitalized dropped by 25 percent if they chose online counseling. This is slightly higher than the number of hospital visits experienced by patients who used face-to-face counseling (Psychiatric Services, April 2012).
For providers and patients alike, in addition to the positive health effects, there are numerous benefits to virtual mental health programs.
From The Patients’ Perspective
For patients, access to a mental health services provider can be life-changing. While benefits of virtual mental health services differ from patient to patient, they can include: ease, convenience, privacy, access and increased choice and options. The services they need fit into their lifestyle, rather than the other way around.
While telemedicine alone cannot fix all the challenges that exist today when it comes to comprehensive access to quality mental health services, it does get us one step closer. By bridging the gap between providers and patients — and removing barriers to things like location, transportation and convenience — the industry can focus on addressing the obstacles that continue to stand in the way of achieving treatment numbers closer 100 percent.