Telehealth can be defined as the use of videoconferencing, remote monitoring, electronic consultations, and wireless communications to provide health care services virtually. Telehealth has been growing in popularity among health care providers, and it offers specific benefits to patients and professionals in mental health therapy and applied behavior analysis (ABA).
To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by Regis College’s online Master of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis program.
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How Telehealth Became the Norm in Health Care
Prior to COVID-19, telehealth was experiencing slow but steady growth in the United States. But after the declaration of a national health emergency, many government agencies loosened restrictions and encouraged health care providers to offer telehealth services.
The Growth of Telehealth in the U.S.
Between 2005 and 2017, the majority of telemedicine visits made by privately insured patients were for mental health. Telehealth continued to grow in popularity, with the adoption of telemedicine in health facilities nearly doubling from 15% in 2010 to 29% in 2017.
During COVID-19, telehealth visits surged by 50% in March 2020, with providers seeing huge spikes in video requests from patients.
Changes in Telehealth Legislation During COVID-19
With remote services in high demand, legislators sought ways to remove barriers to telehealth. Legislation passed in March 2020 allowed the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to revise regulations that previously limited telehealth services to certain locations with the use of synchronous video technology. Under the new rules, patients can receive services at home using their phones.
The Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights declared it will waive penalties for HIPAA violations against health care providers providing telehealth services in good faith.
The Drug Enforcement Agency and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also made changes to policies, making it easier for physicians to prescribe medication.
Growth Factors Supporting Telehealth Adoption
Telehealth is becoming more popular for a variety of reasons. Provider shortages, especially in rural regions, are forcing patients to seek telehealth. In addition, widespread internet access is increasing access to it.
The need for more options in mental health delivery has helped create growing policy momentum in support of telehealth adoption and the removal of regulatory and reimbursement barriers.
The Benefits of Telehealth for Mental Health Therapy
Telehealth offers many benefits to patients and providers, including reduced costs and increased access to health care services.
The Benefits of Telehealth
Telehealth reduces the need for visits to the emergency room, which helps to reduce emergency room wait times for patients with serious physical health conditions. Fewer delays in care enable providers to improve the efficiency of care delivery.
Another benefit of telehealth is the improved continuity of care and follow-up. Providers and patients can discuss care from nearly any location, without the need for office visits. This also helps to reduce the need for time off work to access faraway appointments. Patients can speak with providers during lunch breaks without having to leave their workplaces. With telehealth, barriers such as distance from the provider and access to transportation are removed, allowing patients in distant locations to receive quality health care services.
Some patients may experience stigma discussing their health conditions in a provider’s office. Telehealth gives patients the opportunity to freely talk about their conditions from home. Patients don’t have to worry about being late to appointments or spend an extensive amount of time in waiting rooms, helping to improve the patient experience.
Telehealth effectively reduces the cost of health care by allowing providers to reduce overhead expenses and improve outcomes. Research has shown that telehealth interventions offer positive outcomes when used for remote patient monitoring in psychotherapy, including decreased pain, disability, depression, and anxiety comparable to the outcomes of traditional face-to-face care delivery.
The Benefits of Telehealth in Applied Behavior Analysis
Once the health care system has overcome barriers to telehealth adoption in applied behavior analysis (ABA), behavioral health professionals and their patients will reap a wide range of benefits.
Challenges of Advancing Telehealth in Behavioral Health and ABA
The roadblocks to widespread adoption of telehealth in behavioral health include high costs of software-based solutions and staff training, low integration of telehealth solutions with electronic health records, lack of comfort with unfamiliar technology, fear of liability (particularly among older physicians), and lack of uniform reimbursement for telehealth services.
Potential Benefits of Telehealth in ABA
In ABA, telehealth can provide greater opportunity for naturalistic observations. Since individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may behave differently in an office setting, remote consultations allow ABA therapists to view a child’s baseline behavior in a natural setting.
Telehealth enables board-certified behavior analysts (BCBAs) to remotely join sessions without the need to travel to patients’ homes. Rather than replacing in-home visits, telehealth supplements them.
Patients living in rural or isolated communities can receive care from local behavior interventionists and benefit from remote BCBA supervision.
Telehealth offers improved patient outcomes and satisfaction by increasing supervision and communication with patients and caregivers. This may allow BCBAs to make timely adjustments to treatment plans and interventions, thereby accelerating progress.
Overall, telehealth supports a greater focus on families by allowing ABA therapists to better observe behaviors and educate family members on methods of redirection and intervention.
Looking Forward to a Healthier Future
As government agencies continue to reduce barriers to telehealth, more physicians and mental health professionals will be able to serve patients in need of affordable and convenient care.