Can Telehealth Bridge the Mental Health Care Gap in America?

Mental health has long been a problem for Americans. Nearly half of American adults experience some form of mental illness during their lifetimes.

Not surprisingly, the past year has further challenged the mental health of the country, in general. An overwhelming majority of people (85%) say their general well-being has suffered, with 50% specifically citing a decline in mental health and most others identifying other trends that could easily have an impact on mental wellness, like isolation, disengagement, home-life struggles, job security concerns, and others.

The good news is many people recognize the need for treatment and nearly 60% of Americans have sought or wanted to seek mental health services, either for themselves or others. The problem is it’s not always available. Despite 76% of people feeling that mental health is as important as physical health, 74% don’t think mental health services are very accessible. In fact, less than half of people suffering from a mental illness receive care.

There are several challenges when it comes to mental health services, and the data around mental health may seem bleak. But, advances in technology are enabling new service models in many areas of healthcare, including mental and behavioral health. Connected health can help drive availability and accessibility of mental health services, helping address the challenges that are keeping people from seeking and receiving the support they need.

Social Stigma

Perception is a major factor in mental health care avoidance. Many people who may need mental health care avoid seeking help for fear of social ramifications. Nearly a third of Americans (31%), in fact, say being judged by others has kept them from seeking help even though they need support. To avoid being judged, more than 1 in 5 people have lied about seeking treatment. Job security may be a factor here, considering people suffering from mental health conditions are 3-7 times more likely to be unemployed than people who don’t.

The added layer of privacy that telehealth service offer can help offset these challenges. Patients can schedule quietly from anywhere, without any indication they are dealing with a mental health service. They can also participate in sessions from closed offices or their homes, without having to let anyone know where they’re going or risking anyone seeing them.

Limited Access to Services

A very logical reason people fail to receive treatment is, like other healthcare segments, there’s a shortage of mental health providers. Because needs exceeds service availability, people find it difficult to find providers willing to take on new patients, leaving them without access to the care they need. Even when they do find a provider, patients may have to wait a long time for an appointment. Currently, only 27% of the nations mental health needs are able to me met with existing capacity.

While connected health can’t generate more mental health providers, it can help those that currently exist to operate more efficiently. Digital scheduling tools can make it easier for patients to make or change appointments on their own, reducing administrative burden on providers. Similarly, digital portals can make it easier for patients to complete documentation in advance of appointments, ensuring providers have all necessary information in advance and can spend more session time treating patients.

Patients in areas with limited availability can expand their provider searches beyond local areas because travel time is eliminated. Mental health providers can also benefit by expanding their services beyond their local areas to increase patient volumes. In addition, with the administrative efficiencies digital health solutions can deliver, providers may be able to increase patient volume without increasing their work hours.

Cost and Insurance

There’s another factor that 42% of Americans say is a barrier to mental health services: insurance coverage and cost of service. Connected health services alone can’t solve this problem, but the continued success of connected health programs across the board and ongoing efforts to build awareness around mental health can help drive regulatory reform. The impact connected health has had during the past year has not gone unnoticed, and several agencies and groups continue to push for regulatory changes and increased coverage for telehealth. At least some insurers, too, are recognizing the need for increased mental health benefits.

There’s no simple answer to mental health – it can be much complicated to treat than most common physical health conditions. But, the barriers that exist and are keeping patients from even seeking treatment create risk of worsening conditions, which can trigger other damaging behaviors. Connected health can help bridge that gap and create a better system for treating mental health needs.

To learn more about how healthcare delivery in general can be improved through connected health technologies, connect with us here.