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Telemental health is remote provision of mental health services through telecommunications media. This can include phones, videoconferencing technology, email, and websites. Evidence-based research on telemental health shows that it can be useful in a variety of situations, including cases where patients live in remote areas and have trouble accessing psychiatric care. It can be used for tools like evaluation, medication management, and psychotherapy sessions.
Patients may be referred to a telemental health service if there are no care providers available in their area or they might have a long wait for treatment. It can also be used in environments where it is difficult for clinicians to access patients, like prisons. Depending on the available technology on the patient’s end, a variety of communication tools can be used to establish and maintain contact. Interactions through telecommunications may supplement an in-person relationship, or could be a primary source of care.
Some patients may work with videoconferencing technology, and can do so over the Internet if they are on a robust connection. They may meet one on one for assessments, discussions about medication, education, and psychotherapy sessions. It’s also possible to use telemental health for group therapy, where patients meet together in a room and conference over a video connection. Support groups and buddy systems to help patients empower each other can also utilize telecommunications to keep people connected across distance or other barriers.
Rural areas often have a shortage when it comes to options for mental health treatment, particularly for complex conditions. General practitioners and nurses may be able to provide basic assistance, but patients who need psychiatric care may be forced to travel, which can create stress and reduce patient compliance. Telemental health provides coverage in these areas, allowing patients to meet on a regular schedule to discuss ongoing issues during treatment, make sure their medications are managed appropriately, and work on specific therapeutic activities like addressing a phobia.
Historically, telemedicine researchers were concerned that telemental health might not provide adequate services to patients, who might benefit from face to face interactions. Additional studies indicate that it can be both useful and safe, particularly because psychiatric care may not require physical examinations. Patients who need bloodwork and follow-up studies can receive those in their home communities, and have the results transmitted. Psychotherapy can be provided remotely in many cases, depending on the nature of the patient’s condition and the type of therapy.
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