The pandemic has disrupted our lives in many ways. Thankfully, humans have a long history of being resourceful, especially when it comes to inventing and using tools to make life easier. The development of technology has broadened our world and enabled us to continue life as usual, at least as much as possible, during the pandemic. Physical distancing propelled us to live life virtually. Nearly every experience can be accessed remotely — education, celebrations, business meetings, fitness classes, and health care — to help us take precautions that lower infection risk.
Telehealth, the use of technology to connect patients and health care providers, isn’t a new concept. It was initially designed to give patients who live far from a provider reliable access to care. With physical distancing and limited contact options during the pandemic, telehealth became a vital tool to ensure people could receive the health care they needed.
Isolation, fear, uncertainty about the pandemic, and the economic crisis left in its wake have increased depression, anxiety, and stress for many people. According to an April survey, 45 percent of adults said that the pandemic had impacted their mental health, while close to 19 percent report that it’s had a significant impact. Using telehealth has enabled health care professionals to provide help to people whose mental health has been affected by the pandemic and ensure that services to existing patients aren’t interrupted.
Safe, confidential telehealth is available for Eagle River Valley residents and patients of Eagle Valley Behavioral Health. Beyond its obvious benefit to providing services during the pandemic, telehealth offers several other benefits to telemedicine programs:
- Greater Convenience and Ease
A survey conducted earlier in 2020 found that 74 percent of the patients surveyed preferred easy access to health care services over in-person interactions with providers. Adding virtual care offers patients easy, on-demand care that doesn’t require them to step out of their comfort zone. Bedridden patients can also access this form of mental care easily.
- Increased Access
Patients in rural or remote areas, who typically endure longer appointment commutes due to a lack of nearby providers, can benefit from more convenient and quicker mental health specialist access. Telemedicine can offer better access to more mental health specialists and allow remotely located patients to connect with the mental health specialist of their choice.
- Better Patient Engagement
Engaging your patients through telemedicine, especially during a pandemic like the one we’re facing right now, can help them maintain care schedules and appointments. Increased engagement initiatives can also curb feelings of loneliness and not being able to talk to anyone in a time when a person can easily drift toward unhealthy lifestyle choices. Virtual visits reassure patients that their providers are available and involved in their care. It also makes it much easier for them to report early warning signs, reach out with questions, and make a follow-up appointment to ensure they’re right on track.
- Reducing the Stigma
Unfortunately, negative perceptions about mental illness create a stigma that impacts many individuals on both interpersonal levels (e.g., blaming, name-calling) and institutional levels (e.g., employment discrimination). The stigma experienced because of one’s mental illness can, in turn, exacerbate psychological symptoms and deter treatment-use and recovery, further compromising an individual’s mental health. Accessing treatment via telehealth enables patients to get the help they need within their home’s confines, which may help them feel more comfortable seeking treatment.
One of the major obstacles to telemedicine has been the cost ramifications for providers. But physical distancing requirements and changes to payment regulations have, at least temporarily, removed that barrier. In March 2020, Medicaid and Medicare expanded eligibility for reimbursement for telehealth amid the pandemic. In June 2020, 37 states have passed telehealth parity laws, which require private health care insurance companies to reimburse providers for care delivered remotely via telemedicine.
Talking to a mental health care professional about your mental health issues or emotional difficulties is a positive step towards improving your mental health. Being honest and open will help you get the most appropriate treatment for your needs. Health care professionals are trained to deal with sensitive issues and to be aware of the different needs and cultural backgrounds of the people they work with, so don’t be embarrassed talking about things like anxiety, abuse, voices in your head, drug or alcohol use, grief, or depression. Health care professionals will have heard similar sensitive issues or questions many times before and will not find it awkward or embarrassing.
Eagle Valley Behavioral Health therapists are available via telehealth to help you cope with any challenges you may be facing so that you can prioritize your mental health and well-being.