- Telehealth solutions are spreading throughout the medical care industry and affecting the lives of patients and workflow of healthcare providers. Among many patients, transportation, mobility, place of residence, and other obstacles may stand in the way of sufficient access to healthcare services. For example, some people who reside in rural areas may not have certain specialists or urgent care clinics nearby, which is why telehealth solutions are so necessary in the medical field.
Telemedicine services can be useful for a wide variety of patients with both physical and mental health conditions. Reuters Health reports on a study that found audio and video-based therapy sessions assist older veterans manage their depression as much as an in-person appointment might.
Some senior citizens are also concerned with the social stigma of obtaining mental health counseling, which is why telemedicine could be a sufficient answer to receiving the necessary treatment.
“At our facility, we have almost 40 percent of people who live in rural areas, so this is a good opportunity to be able to provide care for them without them having to drive long distances,” Dr. Leonard Egede, the Allen H. Johnson Endowed Chair and professor of medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, told the news source.
Older people have higher risk of depressive symptoms especially past age 65, Egede and colleagues explained in their findings, which was published in The Lancet Psychiatry. Additionally, the risk of depression is even higher among veterans, which is at least twice as much as the rest of the population.
With many in this population disabled or otherwise unable to make it to an in-person doctor’s appointment, telehealth solutions present a better option in which patients would be able to speak with mental health professionals or medical doctors about any potential issues taking place in this segment of the population.
With regard to post-traumatic stress disorder, there has been research that’s found telehealth solutions to be as favorable as in-person visits to a psychiatrist or psychologist. However, when it comes to depression, there haven’t been as many studies focused on whether telemedicine services improve the well-being of the patient.
“Our goal was really to understand whether you can actually provide good psychotherapy via telemedicine,” Egede told the source.
The research team looked at a total of 204 veteran patients who were 58 years old and up with a depression disorder. The subjects were also divided up into two groups with one experimental and one control. The control group received in-person mental health professional help while the second experimental group of patients spoke with a psychotherapist via video and audio in their own home.
“The study team measured the participants’ progress using two standard questionnaires in which patients rated their own symptoms. Participants were considered to be responding to treatment if their symptoms were reduced by at least half,” Reuters reported. “After four weeks, the questionnaires showed that only a small proportion of patients in either group had reduced their symptoms by that much, and only half as many in the telemedicine group (5 percent to 7 percent) as in the in-person therapy group (15 percent)… At the one-year mark, the groups were about even, with 19 percent to 22 percent of the telemedicine patients and 19 percent to 21 percent of in-person patients meeting the treatment-response definition based on the questionnaires.”
Clearly, telehealth solutions proved to be fruitful in treating depression in older veterans and have made an impact on patients with mobility issues or residing in rural areas across the healthcare industry as a whole. Currently, the federal policies on telemedicine may be changing with Congress considering expanding telehealth services across the country, according to Bank Rate.
At this moment in time, Medicare is covering telehealth solutions that are impacting care delivery to rural areas. The Veterans Health Administration, for example, has a system for providing video conferencing to patients who would like to speak with their doctor while at home.
As the federal government continues to focus on expanding coverage and access to telehealth solutions, new technologies will likely continue to impact the patient population and lead to better care, more positive population health outcomes and lower medical care costs.