Telehealth technologies answer a growing need for care of patients with mental health disorders. Time savings, cost reduction, and the ability to provide service to people who are housebound or live in remote or distant locations mean that more people can have access to mental health professionals. We’ve written about several aspects of telehealth, including patient interest, patient skepticism, local and regional aspects of telehealth services, and even the potential for telehealth follow-up after hospital discharge to reduce readmission rates. A comprehensive new report highlights telehealth market dynamics, best practices, opportunities, enabling technologies, and more. Very recent personal experience with telemental health, however, brought to light the convenience of the technology but also highlighted the significance of proper implementation and introduction.

Frost & Sullivan‘s “US Telemental Health Market, Forecast to 2021,” showed significant telemental health growth and forecast as 22.5% growth rate through 2021. The report noted studies by the US Veteran’s Affairs indicating the potential for telemental health services for military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The report addresses issues of telepsychiatric services such as the legality of remote prescription of controlled substances, the compliance with HIPAA, and the disparities of reimbursement and regulation across state lines. The promise of addressing the serious supply and demand challenges of mental health services will continue to drive market penetration, according to the report.

My personal experience with telemental health was unexpected. I have ADHD and use a controlled substance to compensate for the lack of neurotransmitters associated with the neurological condition. I see a psychiatrist monthly for a status check and a new prescription. When I went to my normally scheduled appointment yesterday, I was informed at the front desk that I’d be seeing another provider and was given her name. When the time came, I was escorted to an office where I expected to meet with a new provider in person. With no further explanation or notice, however, I was told to take a seat in front of a computer screen. I was in North Carolina and met with a psychiatrist who said she was in Georgia. The camera and screen were misaligned. At first, the psychiatrist was going to message the attendant to fix it, but I took care of the problem by moving the display in front of the camera. The experience was fine, and I was informed when I made another appointment that I’d see the same person next month. I would have appreciated notice ahead of time, but it wasn’t that big deal for me, especially as I’m used to video calls. The next patient after me, however, was a woman in a wheelchair who was pushed into the room still asking why she wasn’t seeing her usual doctor. Possibly all went well, but in my so far limited experience with telemental health, I can see that implementation matters a great deal.