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Dialing Into Mental Health: How (and Why) Telemedicine Works

As telehealth benefits for minor injuries or illnesses continue to become a staple of strong company benefits packages, there’s one other area of care that deserves to go digital: mental health services.

Obstacles to Mental Health Care

Telemedicine is a natural fit for the challenges of addressing mental health. Consider everything an employee needs to do to receive care for a mental health issue, something roughly 1 in 5 adults struggles with each year:

  • First, they have to search for therapists or other providers who are both within their insurance network and accepting new patients — often a tricky combo to find.
  • Then, they have to wait for that first appointment, which could be days or even weeks in the future, while their symptoms may be getting progressively worse.
  • On the day of their appointment, they have to take time off work to travel to the appointment, wait in the lobby, finish their session and come all the way back.

It can be a complex and burdensome process, making it so hard for people to get the help they need that some of just give up on treatment altogether.

How Telemedicine Services Can Help

Enter telemedicine, a confidential and convenient route to care. Already, about 58% of major hospitals in the U.S. have already brought in virtual health to support mental health services. But it’s not only embraced by brick-and-mortar health systems: Telehealth companies like LiveHealth Online, part of the Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield network, also offer video-based mental health care that costs about as much as a regular copay for some policyholders.

There are many reasons why these emerging digital solutions can be so attractive for employees in need of mental health support:

  1. They’re convenient. An estimated 16% of Americans live at least 30 miles from a hospital — and if they’re that remote, their options for potential mental health providers may be even more limited. But telehealth benefits don’t just help those in rural areas. Anyone can benefit from being able to receive care without the hassle of traveling to and from appointments, taking time off of work or finding child care.
  2. They’re cost-effective. By and large, out-of-network therapists cost more. But for people with specialized needs or those who live in areas without mental health providers, going out of network may be their only option. Telemedicine empowers them to track down in-network providers with flat-rate pricing to keep costs under control.
  3. They’re quick. Some employees may tirelessly search for the perfect in-network therapist, only to learn that, in large part due to nationwide shortages, their soonest availability is weeks out. Thanks to built-in efficiencies of telemedicine, though, scheduling doesn’t have to be so gridlocked. LiveHealth Online therapists, for example, can be seen within days.
  4. They’re confidential. Of course, all providers are. But it’s oddly comforting to speak with your therapist within the privacy of your own home or other space rather than driving to a busy office where you may see others in the lobby — or even run into someone you know. With many people forgoing care because of the stigma still attached to mental health problems, this is an important factor.

Is Telehealth Right for Everybody?

These benefits make a compelling case for offering telemedicine, but keep in mind that some employees may still prefer seeing a professional in person. That’s why it’s important to enhance, rather than replace, mental health benefits with telemedicine solutions. The goal should be to break down barriers wherever they appear so that employees can get the care they need.

With so many U.S. workers struggling in silence, it’s important to give them opportunities to speak to someone who can help. Whether they do so over a phone or in person — or maybe both — is up to them. They just need to know that someone, somewhere, is there to listen.

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