By Dr. Kasi Howard, Psy. D

It’s no secret that while many brick and mortar stores are closing, Amazon stock continues to rise at an astronomical rate.  The way in which we do business has quickly changed.  Smart phones allow us instantaneous access to almost any product or person in the world … except your health care providers.  But that is quickly changing, too.  

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines telehealth as “the use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, streaming media, and cell phones.”

While some patients may be concerned about telehealth being impersonal, the benefits that it offers far outweigh the potential drawbacks.

According to the U.S. Healthcare Efficiency Index, an independent entity that gathers data on health insurance utilization, over 1.5 billion health care claims were filed in 2013.  Less than 4,000 of those were telemedicine claims.  That’s less than 0.000003 percent. Fortunately, Medicare created an initiative in 2015 to increase telemedicine services.  And where Medicare leads, most private payers tend to follow.  

If the medical community is in the slow track of the digital age, the mental health community is just happy to be on the track.  Often underfunded, over-criticized and underutilized, mental health providers are usually left to their own devices to ensure their patients receive adequate care.  Thus, telemedicine presents a unique opportunity for those in the mental health community to broaden their services to reach those who need it most.  

While some patients may be concerned about telehealth being impersonal, the benefits that it offers far outweigh the potential drawbacks.  For example, those in rural – and even not so rural cities – often lack access to specialized care.  Driving 200 miles to the nearest metropolis for an appointment is simply not an option for your average American.  And doing it weekly for consistent appointments is just outlandish.  

Using a secure video platform, patients can now access psychologists specialized in treating everything from ADHD to PTSD from the comfort of their home.  This is an added bonus for those who suffer from anxiety and find it difficult to leave home to attend regular appointments.  Finding after hours appointments can also be difficult even for those who live in areas where treatment is readily available.  Telehealth opens up opportunities for a patient to have an appointment on their lunch hour or other break in the day.  

Telehealth is a convenient and viable option for most people.  It’s just a matter of finding the best fit.

With so many benefits, many people are gravitating toward telehealth as a viable option.  So what do patients need to know about telehealth therapy before choosing a psychologist?

  • Be aware that state licensure rules still apply.  This means that you can only be seen by someone in your home state.  
  • Feel free to ask your psychologist what training they have in your particular area of need before making an appointment.  For example, someone who specializes in trauma should be attending trainings in trauma treatment every year to stay on top of the latest treatments.  
  • Ensure that any provider is using HIPAA approved video software for all sessions.  This ensures your privacy and is a good indicator that you are dealing with a competent provider.
  • Most states have parity laws that require claims for telehealth services be paid at the same rate as in-person services; however, it’s always best to confirm your benefits before making an appointment.

Telehealth is a convenient and viable option for most people.  It’s just a matter of finding the best fit.  

Dr. Howard is a clinical psychologist treating eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and marriage issues in the San Antonio area. For more info, visit www.kasihoward.com.