Telemental health services: Widening accessibility to quality behavioral healthcare
Telemental health services are prized for providing increased efficiency and expanding healthcare access for many people. Best practices and guidelines must be followed to ensure the benefits can be fulfilled in a positive and secure manner.
Telemental health is the use of telecommunications technology such as interactive videoconferencing to provide behavioral health services. The primary goal of telemental health is to remove barriers to patient access to quality, evidence-based and emerging health care diagnostics and treatment. Healthcare services include mental health assessments, treatment, education, monitoring and collaboration.
Psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, psychologists and primary care providers are among the professionals who may provide telemental health care. People in rural and underserved communities are especially benefited by telemental health care, but patients can be located all over including hospitals, clinics, nursing facilities, prisons and homes.
According to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the main benefits of telemental health care include:
- Effective care delivery. Telemental health services can support a healthcare system’s move toward collaborative and integrated approaches by strengthening relationships within a team and across agencies. Telehealth can ease the task of convening consultation sessions between primary care physicians and behavioral healthcare specialists.
- Expanded staff capacity. Telemental health can also give providers more mobility and expand the scope of their practice.
- Enhanced training opportunities. Telecommunications can also be used to conduct trainings for staff when sessions are devoted to sharing of insights and best practices.
Because of the complexity of health care, telemental health services must be administered carefully with special attention to licensing and privacy laws as well as reimbursement considerations. It is essential telemental health care agencies and providers know about policies and requirements up front.
Privacy and confidentiality of medical information is important because telemental health involves the use of transporting patient information online and through videoconferencing. Relevant federal laws include the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act. Meanwhile, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outlines provisions about telecommunications policy. State laws also apply.
In addition, thirty-nine states have some form of coverage and reimbursement for mental health provided via telemedicine video-conferencing. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) offers information on state Medicaid best practices.
Cross-state licensing is another factor to consider. Each state has laws and administrative policies on telehealth, which vary and may or may not require licensing for certain telehealth activities. In June, a bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives regarding telemedicine. As telemedicine becomes mainstream, healthcare professionals should expect laws to be passed to regulate this type of healthcare.
Alvernia University recognizes the physical, emotional, and spiritual destruction that occurs in people suffering from behavioral health problems. The Behavioral Health program was created to create professionals who have the necessary knowledge, skills and proficiencies to work in the prevention, intervention, and treatment of behavioral health issues. Telecommunications technology could prove to be another valuable way to provide treatment to those suffering with behavioral health issues.