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Telehealth, virtual care well-suited for use in behavioral health

Virtual care can help fill the gaps in behavioral healthcare, including the critical supply-and-demand issue – too many patients, not enough clinicians – that has been hampering care for quite some time.

This was the focus of a HIMSS21 Digital discussion between Michael Hasselberg, senior director of digital health at the University of Rochester and Julie Rish, clinical psychologist and director of design and best practices at the Cleveland Clinic.

Both noted demand for such services has only grown since the onset of the pandemic. These include substance abuse, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and burnout and depression amongst care workers themselves.

“We just don’t have enough psychiatrists and psychologists to meet the demand, and it’s only growing,” Hasselberg said. “One of the great things telemedicine has been able to provide for behavioral health is the ability to reach patients in areas of the country that without that tech would not have been able to receive behavioral health care.”

From Hasselberg’s perspective, being able to provide access to this type of care is the key benefit of telemedicine and virtual care technologies for behavioral health.

As Rish pointed out, however, it’s not just about access–it’s about training care providers who go into the homes, as well as the beneficiaries themselves, to get comfortable with these technologies and to establish trust in them. 

“Do I trust that I will receive the same quality of care, that it is proxy to receiving in person care?” Rish said. “We need to make sure we are leveraging our resources effectively to bridge that concern.”

Hasselberg agreed, explaining that nurses can be sent out to nursing homes to support care workers there in setting up the technology in patient rooms.

“Those caregivers can then help patients figure out how to use these smart devices or tablets, turn them on and off, and monitor vitals,” he said. “What we’ve learned is that patients feel quite comfortable talking to someone over this medium, and get really excited to take that tablet and show off their room—they feel more comfortable in that setting, and that allows them to open up to me and tell me things that maybe they wouldn’t have in person.”

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