Health care services are often offered in dedicated health care facilities such as hospitals and clinics. With the growing recognition for the advancements of the internet and its various benefits for connecting people remotely, there is growing interest in using the internet to provide health care services, particularly therapy. This is called Telehealth Therapy.
Telehealth therapy refers to the type of non-clinical health service that uses the internet and other remote devices to provide health care and eliminate its physical requirement. This provides convenience, accessibility, and flexibility for patients and specialists.
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What is Telehealth Therapy?
Telehealth therapy refers to the type of online therapy that uses online platforms such as email, online chat, phone call, and video conferencing for treatment of mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and OCD. It is called by different names including telemental health therapy, telepractice, distance counseling, internet therapy, and telepsychology. The WHO classifies telehealth as services that provide health care remotely using the internet.
Telehealth therapy is reserved for mental health conditions that do not require clinical treatment. Yet in terms of effectiveness, research has shown that it can obtain similar results and can even diagnose mental conditions earlier, especially for children with autism. This can help start the process of therapy and rehabilitation at the onset of the disease.
There are two main types of telehealth therapy: video therapy and telephone counseling. Video therapy refers to the telehealth practice using video conferencing between the patient and the telehealth specialist while telephone counseling uses only voice conversation.
These two types of telehealth therapy can be beneficial for people who have mental health needs but are reluctant to have a face-to-face conversation with a therapist. It is also good for people who cannot accommodate visits to a therapist due to their hectic schedule. It can even help people living in rural or remote areas. This form of therapy can all occur within the individual’s workplace and home.
Younger people, in particular, can benefit from telemental health because they are more accustomed to online interaction and conversation. This provides both comfort and convenience for younger individuals who fear social stigma from meeting face to face with a therapist.
Benefits of Telehealth Therapy
Remote and Digital
One of the main benefits of telehealth therapy is the ability to communicate digitally using the internet as the primary medium. This makes mental healthcare significantly easier and more convenient to obtain and access, especially as most healthcare facilities are more oriented towards clinical diagnosis and treatment.
The digital nature of telehealth therapy can better protect the privacy of the patient since it does not require physical visits to a healthcare facility. This allows mental health patients to be less vulnerable to social stigma.
In terms of effectiveness, studies have shown that there is no significant difference between therapies conducted physically and digitally. Telehealth therapy even had success in treating PTSD. Also, telehealth therapy help in reducing hospital admission by more than 26%.
The more accessible mental health care through telehealth therapy makes it easier to book and re-book and keep appointments regularly. People can obtain much-needed mental health care despite maintaining their busy schedules. It also eliminates time wasted on commute to the therapist’s clinic and allows the patient to receive mental health care anytime and anywhere.
Furthermore, people who have limited mobility either through physical disability or lack of infrastructure for travel can now receive mental health care through telehealth therapy. Therapists will also have higher turnover as the amount of failed appointments are significantly reduced.
Uninterrupted and Flexible
Since telehealth therapy is accessible through mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, it can provide an uninterrupted and flexible schedule of treatment. This gives patients the convenience of receiving unbounded mental health care.
Telehealth therapy also reduces the burden and pressure from the patient as it allows them and gives them time to consult with friends and family members. With the telehealth specialist only one call away, this gives utmost flexibility to the patient to make decisions with full certainty.
Current Challenges for Telehealth Therapy
Providing mental health therapy online is considered unfamiliar territory, especially for people who have practiced psychology for many years. Psychological practices and methods are founded on using information from the patient’s body language to assess the condition of the mind and to provide more accurate treatment plans.
Online therapists need more dedicated training and also need more guidance on the possible ethical challenges and privacy concerns of practicing telehealth therapy for both patient and specialist.
Absence of Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues
Telehealth therapy is based on delivering mental health services through the internet. Traditional psychologists will have lesser tools to operate which can affect how they diagnose and provide treatment.
Specifically, the virtual nature of telehealth therapy can make it difficult for therapists to pick up on subtle cues that may show symptoms of a mental health condition. This can involve verbal and non-verbal cues such as visual and bodily feedback.
The virtual nature of telehealth therapy makes it accessible across state lines. While this is an advantage in itself for the patient and the specialist, there are different licensing laws in each state which provide distinct guidelines based on current legislation.
Current licensing laws are considered obsolete and do not provide enough guidance in the time of telehealth therapy. Thus, telehealth specialists may face legal challenges if deemed liable for illegally practicing in a different state.
Preparations and Equipment
Telehealth therapy requires a fast and stable internet connection to provide the client with uninterrupted therapy sessions. High-quality equipment such as a dedicated microphone, headphones, and camera is also required to simulate an actual face-to-face conversation.
The space for conducting telehealth therapy also needs to be private, quiet, and free of clutter that can potentially distract the patient. The placing of the camera and the amount of volume also needs careful adjustment to avoid technical issues that can affect the patient’s experience of the therapy.
Most importantly, the telehealth specialist needs to make the patient aware of state regulations and provide infographics and consent forms for him/her to make an informed decision in participating in telehealth therapy before the actual treatment or therapy.
Telehealth therapy is the next stage in the evolution of healthcare which attempts to incorporate the virtual environment to provide more accessible and convenient service. With several adjustments in practice and legislation, telehealth therapy can provide patients with similar experience as face-to-face therapy, but with greater convenience.