While the public health strategy of washing hands and practicing physical distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 is effective and well underway, these measures do not address the psychological needs of the patients and health service providers. Worry about the virus spread and simply the act of social distancing creates anxiety. This is where telehealth, and particularly telemental services plays an important role.
In this new study, “The Role of Telehealth in Reducing the Mental Health Burden from COVID-19” has just been published in the peer-reviewed journal Telemedicine and e-Health. “Treatment protocols for people with COVID-19 should address both the physiological and psychological needs of the patients and health service providers. Providing psychological treatment and support may reduce the burden of comorbid mental health conditions and ensure the wellbeing of those affected,” the researchers write.
In the article by Xiaoyun Zhou and coauthors, substantial evidence supports the effectiveness of telemental health in the areas of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Factors such as fear of exposure, isolation, loss of income, reduced autonomy, and the absence of a cure for coronavirus infection are contributing to increased stress. The authors emphasize that the provision of mental health support, especially via telehealth, will help patients maintain their psychological well being.
Telemental Health Services and Response from Insurance Companies
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends that individuals with preexisting mental health conditions continue treatment during the pandemic. “We’re seeing a lot of states respond by proposing pretty radical changes to their telehealth reimbursement policies both by increasing types of services that can be delivered by telehealth, the types of professionals that can deliver those services, as well as thinking very broadly about the types of technologies that can be used,” said Chuck Ingoglia, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health in an article in Rollcall.
In recent days, Aetna announced that it would not charge for copays for telemedicine, including for mental health, until June 4. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association announced that some plans, including Anthem, Florida Blue and Horizon, will make telemental mental health available. And, Cigna has a 24-hour hotline to connect their patients with mental health clinicians.
“Telemedicine, which includes teleheath, is growing exponentially at all healthcare institutions, as well as for physicians in groups and in private practice. Healthcare executives are preparing for this,” says Mary Ann Liebert, president and CEO of Mary Ann Liebert publishers.
For more on this topic, read a just released JAMA study: Understanding and Addressing Sources of Anxiety Among Health Care Professionals During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Editors Note: The article above lists valuable telehealth mental health resources in Australia (Click here to read the article free). We’ve added our own list of US-based telemental services for you, your staff and your patients: