Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become a mainstay for patients across the country. The American Telemedicine Association (ATA) reports the following data:
- 28 studies found that more than 80% of patients indicated satisfaction with telehealth
- 75% of people expect virtual care to become a standard part of their care
- 85.52% report that telemedicine has made getting the care they need easier
With its growing popularity, it’s clear telehealth is a long-term solution and not just a temporary fix during the pandemic. As of 2017, the American Hospital Association cited 65% of hospitals had incorporated a telehealth solution. In 2021, about one-sixth of hospitals reported using telepsychiatry with a wide variation across states.
Still, healthcare organizations have a lot to consider when implementing virtual specialty solutions like telepsychiatry, and patient comfort should be a top priority. Keep reading to learn more about common telehealth misconceptions, why virtual works so well for psychiatry, and how to set patients and providers up for success in a virtual environment.
Common telehealth misconceptions
Despite the benefits and popularity of virtual care, misconceptions about the patient experience persist, and the telepsychiatry space is no different.
Here are four of the top misconceptions we encounter on a daily basis:
- Patients don’t want to use telehealth: This is perhaps one of the biggest myths busted by the pandemic. Across the board, patients want to conveniently and quickly see a provider across any specialty in the most convenient way possible — and for many, that means telepsychiatry. Additionally, while some organizations might be concerned about their patients thinking telehealth is low quality, there is no current data to support this notion. As the ATA study reports, patient satisfaction is high, and patients expect telehealth to continue being a possibility for their care well into the future.
- Elderly patients have trouble accessing technology: According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), technology usage among older adults skyrocketed during the pandemic. The AARP reports that 44% of older adults view tech more positively as a way to stay connected than they did before COVID-19. Additionally, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) reports that since the late 1990s, telepsychiatry has been an effective treatment for anxiety, dementia, and cognitive impairment within this population.
- Populations with specialty concerns can’t get care: Many providers or organizations may think certain patients with specific concerns, like those experiencing paranoia, wouldn’t be interested in telepsychiatry. However, psychiatrists have seen that the ability to receive care from the comfort of their own homes has a more influential benefit for this population. Additionally, for deaf or hard-of-hearing patients, sharing the call with a sign-language interpreter has proven helpful and easy to manage virtually.
- Reaching rural communities will be difficult: While there may be concerns about getting this population on board with telepsychiatry, patients have seen real benefits over the past few years. In rural or small-town communities where access to care is limited, stigma around getting mental health treatment still exists, and not having to go to a psychiatrist’s office is a bonus for many people who may be wary of community backlash. Additionally, according to the Pew Research Center, 93% of American adults use the internet, diluting concerns that populations in rural America can’t access virtual care. Additionally, the ability to get care from home, so they don’t have to drive long distances, is a huge plus for this population.
Why virtual works for psychiatry
The virtual environment of telepsychiatry allows providers to meet patients where they are. This virtual platform is compatible with the nature of a psychiatrist’s work, and dates back as far as the 1950’s.
Additionally, for individuals with anxiety who aren’t comfortable leaving their houses, telepsychiatry is an excellent fit. The same goes for lower income populations, or patients experiencing homelessness. For these patients, getting transportation can stand as a barrier, and it can also be more difficult for them to want to go into a busy medical office.
The vast majority of work that goes into psychiatry is talking and listening, and telepsychiatry is the perfect fit for this line of work. Educating patients, providers, and organizational leadership about the benefits of telepsychiatry can help solidify this modality as a long-term solution for your organization.
Increasing patient comfortability at healthcare organizations
While most patients will be comfortable utilizing virtual care platforms, some may be hesitant. In this case, communication is vital. Ask your patients where else they’ve used this modality in their lives. If they’ve been able to communicate and connect with their loved ones, chances are, they’ll like telepsychiatry as well.
You can also ask them what they want directly. For example, do they want to come into the clinic? Or, do they want to connect from home? Maybe there will be some patients who are interested in a hybrid option. The data you collect can help guide your organization’s decision when considering investing in a telepsychiatry solution.
Tips for providers using telepsych
While telepsychiatry is beneficial to patients, it also benefits providers. In the ATA report cited above, 94% of mental health professionals say they would like to continue offering telehealth services. That said, making sure your providers have the information they need will set them up for success as they embark on their virtual practice.
At Iris Telehealth, we ensure our providers have all the resources, tools, and support they need to do what they do best — take care of patients. We’re psychiatrist-owned and operated, and we know what providers need, like less paperwork, a supportive work/life balance, and even 24/7 tech support.
Here are five tips our providers have found useful:
- Ensure a nice office set-up with a neutral background that’s not too distracting or too plain, like a blank white wall
- To prevent headaches, encourage providers to be aware of any glare on their glasses or their computer screen
- Investing in a noise-canceling microphone can help providers keep communication clear and cut back on distractions
- To help ensure patient privacy, ask your providers to invest in a headset to ensure they’re the only ones who can hear what the patient is saying
- Ensuring your provider’s cameras are set to a good gaze angle can help promote connection. When a provider’s camera is pointed down and they’re looking up (or if the camera is on a different monitor than the screen they’re looking at), it can look like they’re staring off into a different direction — providers should seek to position their cameras in a way that makes it appear as though they’re looking directly at their patient
By incorporating these tips, your providers will be set up for successful patient sessions that will make patients more comfortable with any virtual communications.
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