By Corrina Horne
Home visits were once the norm for physicians. Far from the current standard of patients leaving their homes and stepping into an office, physicians were expected to go to the homes of their patients, regardless of that patient’s income or connections. That standard has long since fallen by the wayside, but something similar is re-emerging: telehealth. Although telehealth is not quite the same as a physical visit from a physician or specialist, it does offer an opportunity many people are more than happy to take advantage of, in the current climate; namely, the opportunity to stay at home while securing health services.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth is a method of providing healthcare while maintaining distance. Typically, telehalth appointments are delivered directly to a person’s home phone or computer, while the practitioner is firmly ensconced within their own office or practice. While the name “telehealth” might immediately conjure the image of an appointment conducted over the phone, telehealth appointments can utilize a variety of mediums, including online platforms and video conferencing. Although telehealth may have once been considered a last resort, or an effective means of delivering distance consultations and appointments, it is becoming increasingly common, and a host of patients are clamoring to find practitioners who are willing or able to provide health services while quarantining or isolating at home.
Telehealth requires doctors to maintain the same confidentiality required of standard, in-office practitioners. Information delivered via telehealth sessions is still considered private and are protected just as strictly and stringently as the information delivered in an office setting. To this end, some clinicians ask that patients sign forms acknowledging the potential pitfalls of technology, such as the potential for online conferencing software to be hacked, while others simply let patients know that they, as a clinic, will abide by all confidentiality laws required of a medical practice.
Telehealth and Online Therapy
Telehealth has been used largely for simple medicinal interventions. As the start of school approached, families may have utilized telehealth for check-ups. When the symptoms of a cold or the flu arise, people may call in to have an appointment with a provider, who can assess self-reported symptoms and, where possible, evaluate vitals. Telehealth has also been used to follow up with patients, and evaluate after care practices and recovery. All of these are very important interventions provided by standard doctor’s office practitioners, but they neglect to identify the opportunity presented for mental health interventions through online therapy.
Online therapy differs somewhat from what most have come to expect from telehealth. Rather than calling in to a doctor’s office and discussing current symptoms or using tools at home to monitor your vitals, online therapy typically evaluates your current mental health needs, and matches you with a practitioner who is best able to suit your needs. Some online therapy companies take gender preferences into account, some place a heavy focus on background and therapists’ special interests, and some place an emphasis on a mix of individual preferences, mental health needs, and practitioner availability. After being matched to a therapist—ideally, one with whom you get along and feel safe and comfortable—you can engage mental health services, and begin the journey toward healing.
Bringing Mental Health Home: BetterHelp and Online Therapy
BetterHelp is a leader in the online therapy industry, and provides an initial questionnaire or consultation, of sorts, in order to most effectively match incoming clients with their ideal therapists. From there, clients are able to set up therapy sessions, and can attend to more personalizable options, such as frequency of appointments. BetterHelp also has an app, making it an ideal platform for anyone who is highly literate with technology. As a result of its online platform, easy accessibility, and affordability, BetterHelp brings therapy home to a host of people who might not otherwise seek out mental health services. In this respect, BetterHelp goes beyond simple telehealth, and has a hand in normalizing mental health interventions, and making those interventions easy to access for people of all backgrounds and ability levels.
Bringing mental health home can also be a vital service for people who are unable to seek mental health services in any other way. Individuals who are home bound, immune compromised, or even saddled with immense levels of anxiety can all reach out for the mental help they need, without incurring the extra expenses or hardships associated with attending therapy in an actual office setting. Bringing mental health services home is the goal of BetterHelp—and it is a goal that has continued to be realized again and again since the company’s inception.
Telehealth: The Future of Medicine?
Telehealth can have a steep learning curve; as doctor’s offices are flooded with requests for telehealth services, many doctor’s offices are floundering as they try to keep up. Although the transition can be difficult, and local and state guidelines have to be taken into consideration, the success of remote health services via platforms like BetterHelp demonstrate something important: access to healthcare is often one of the most significant detractors from personal health. Platforms like BetterHelp are not only leading the way in new, exciting, and innovative ways to improve people’s health; they are also providing a window into how doctor’s offices can modify their practices and offerings to suit people who might not be willing or able to step foot into a physical office. While telehealth is not poised to completely replace office visits—nor should it—it does demonstrate the increasing need for specialized care, alongside greater affordability and ease of access.