The Importance of Continuing Teletherapy for Those with Chronic Health Conditions after COVID-19
Monday, July 20, 2020
Posted by: Karen Hardin
This article is part of the "Did You Know" article series presented by OPA's Committee on Social Responsibility.
Written by: Robert E. Fite, Miami University
Teletherapy has become a common treatment modality for mental health services since the COVID-19 pandemic. While much uncertainty remains about the future of COVID-19, and whether insurance companies will allow teletherapy to be a billable service, there may be substantial benefits to continuing to offer teletherapy services as an option for clients. Traditional barriers to in-person therapy include cost and travel time. For individuals with chronic health conditions these barriers are likely magnified, and additional barriers to using traditional face-to-face therapy may be present.
There are a number of reasons why continuing to offer teletherapy may be beneficial, especially for those with chronic health conditions. First, individuals with chronic health conditions are especially vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 or the flu. In the case of a resurgence of COVID-19, flu season, or if an unknown future pandemic hits, it will be important to limit the risk that these individuals are exposed to while seeking services. Second, individuals with chronic health conditions may be more likely to dropout from therapy if their condition prolongs their travel time to and from appointments (e.g., those who are visually impaired, have a mobility disability), or if they have symptoms that make them concerned about attending appointments (e.g., diarrhea). Teletherapy eliminates travel time, transportation needs, and has the potential to offer a more comfortable setting for the patient to attend therapy, while also being able to more easily manage symptoms of their underlying health condition at home. Finally, those with chronic health conditions may be more likely to have additional appointments for other health services (e.g., oncology appointments, appointments with a nutritionist, dialysis treatment). This can be a cumbersome cross to bear, including significant time and financial implications. Teletherapy has the potential to ease the time and travel costs of therapy. Importantly, those with chronic health conditions report an interest in using telehealth. Thus, it may be worth assessing interest in using teletherapy for treating psychological symptoms.
What can you do:
- Consider offering telehealth options even after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended
- Learn more about telehealth options and best practices (see resources below)
- Advocate for continued expansion of telehealth options for Medicaid/Medicare clients
- In the absence of being able to offer teletherapy services, consider how you can make your practice more accessible and welcoming to those with health conditions (e.g., having seating for different size bodies, having space for a wheelchair or service dog to get through)
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