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Telehealth: A virtual technology for improved access, convenience and more

For so many of us, it’s easy to put off that doctor or other healthcare appointment. The kids have soccer practice. There’s a lot going on at work. The oil needs to be changed in the car. The dog needs to go to the vet.

Yes, it’s not good, but it reflects the reality of our fast-paced lives. There’s too much going on in a day to take time out to care for ourselves. However, there is an evidence-based solution for addressing the most fundamental barriers to care – access and convenience – and that is telehealth.

Last month, Beacon fortified its telehealth bench strength by launching a larger-scale product with several major employer clients. In doing so, Beacon has increased access to behavioral healthcare through a national telehealth program that augments Beacon’s network of brick-and-mortar providers. Specifically, Beacon’s solution covers initial evaluations, individual and family psychotherapy, and medication management through virtual access to these services.

The implications of this virtual technology are extensive. There are the obvious ones – increased access to care and convenience – but there are other advantages as well: increased choice, depowered stigma, and improved person-centered treatment.

The many faces of telehealth

Telemedicine, which encompasses various mediums, including video, mobile communication devices (i.e., cell phones and tablets), and secure electronic transmission, is a natural fit with behavioral health. In-person contact is less necessary as blood pressure measures or blood draws, for example, are not routine requirements for a visit.

Beyond a good fit, the evidence supports the efficacy of telehealth: Findings from a recent Yale study revealed that web-based treatment is not only as effective as in-person treatment but possibly more so.

At the most fundamental level, telehealth makes members’ lives easier through convenience. Beacon’s client members have virtual access to outpatient mental health therapy and psychiatry services via telephony and video-conferencing to address such issues as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. These sessions can occur at any place and in real-time. Additionally, the service offers a level of discretion and privacy for those members who seek it.

Beacon’s client members have virtual access to outpatient mental health therapy and psychiatry services via telephony and video-conferencing to address such issues as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders.

Beacon’s solution improves access to care as well. Self-service scheduling and a call center that provides support 24/7, 365 days a year enables appointment availability seven days a week.

In brief, healthcare via telehealth meets the individual’s needs instead of the other way around. Individuals no longer have to contort their lives to meet the less flexible structures of a traditional healthcare system.

Telehealth’s subtler side

Those reasons are enough to promote telehealth as a standard treatment option rather than the exception. However, there are other advantages for the member that extend healthcare into the realm of general wellbeing, improving day-to-day life. Telehealth allows members to choose the way they want to receive care, which promotes engagement and involvement in that care. This very flexibility through choice promotes empowerment, a driving factor in achieving personal wellbeing.

Telehealth supports member engagement in care in another important way. While behavioral health treatment has become more accepted in recent years, remnants of stigma still linger. For some people, telehealth further removes possible negative associations with office-based care. Therapy appointments can occur virtually almost anywhere the individual feels comfortable.

There are implications for the healthcare delivery system as well. Digital health’s mobile mindset can help integrate care by bridging the gap between behavioral and non-behavioral providers, as well as between outpatient and inpatient providers, with member consent, of course.

“Telehealth supports the delivery of integrated care across settings – both medical and behavioral health,” commented Christina Mainelli, Beacon’s Chief Growth Officer. “With technology and the capabilities it provides, we will also deliver a more personalized experience for the patient and meet them where they are. Beacon will continue to expand telehealth to support a broader array of behavioral health conditions.”

In brief, the benefits of telehealth are many – convenience, timeliness and engagement for the member and the delivery of person-centered, integrated care for the healthcare system. Beacon looks to more technological innovations to help improve care at both the individual and system level.

Stay tuned.

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