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Telehealth Can Work for Veterans Dealing With Depression

A series of studies finds that video-based counseling can work just as well as an office visit for elderly veterans, and is much more convenient.

- Veterans dealing with depression can be treated just as well with telehealth as with in-person care, according to a recent study.

Studying more than 200 senior-aged veterans for one year between 2007 and 2011, researchers from the Medical University of South Carolina and other institutions found “little of no meaningful difference” in symptoms or patient satisfaction between care delivered in a clinician’s office and that delivered via video.

The one difference lies in convenience, especially for elderly veterans.

“Based on results of this study and prior research, telemedicine is a highly relevant option to address the needs of rural patients or those living in remote locations, while providing patient satisfaction and quality of life similar to that provided by in-person treatment delivered at clinics,” Leonard Egede, MD, director of the MUSC Center for Health Disparities Research, a VA physician and the lead author of the study, told Reuters.

Engede and his team followed 241 veterans over the course of a year, randomly assigning some of the them to eight weeks of in-person counseling and others to counseling via phone and video monitor.

“(T)his study was focused specifically on the elderly population, who have limitations in terms of mobility and transportation options that make them good candidates for depression therapy using telemedicine,” Egede told Reuters. “Based on our analyses, there are no sub-populations based on age, race, or gender that showed worse outcomes and therefore would require in-person treatment.”

Engede and his team actually conducted three separate studies on the veterans, also examining how they responded to telemental health and how outpatient and pharmacy costs for treating depression increase over time. The results of the third study were recently published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The studies add to the growing literature suggesting that mental health services delivered via telehealth can replace the more costly and time-consuming in-office visit, freeing patients to be treated from their homes – especially those in rural and underserved regions - and giving clinicians the opportunity to include home-based treatment into their workflows.

The challenge, said Engede, lies in convincing payers that they should reimburse for depression care delivered via telehealth.

"Taken together, these three studies demonstrate that telemental health is equivalent to in-person care for depression in terms of primary outcomes, secondary outcomes and quality of life, as well as cost," Engede said in a press release supplied by MUSC. "It is time for telemental health to take its rightful place alongside in-person counseling as a viable option for depression care, one that will remove many barriers to care."

Dig Deeper:

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