Telemedicine and telehealth were first developed over 40 years ago and are slowly making their way into mainstream health care in the United States. According to the American Telemedicine Association, over 50 percent of all hospitals nationwide now implement telemedicine, or “remote clinical services,” in some way. Telehealth is a broader term in the field of mental health information technology (IT) that includes telemedicine, training, administrative tasks and continuing education (CE) classes for professionals within a given field. This gives mental health professionals and those struggling with mental health issues more opportunities for communication and education. The third Tuesday of September each year is designated as National IT Professionals Day, providing an opportunity to further explore these uses of technology within the mental health care system.
The use of telemedicine on a global scale has been researched by the World Health Organization (WHO), which formed the Global Observatory for eHealth (GOe) in an effort to determine how these technological advances are simplifying health care and the ways in which they can be improved. The executive summary of WHO’s 2009 report explains, “The importance of evaluation within the field of telemedicine cannot be overstated: the field is in its infancy and while its promise is great, evaluation can ensure maximization of benefit.” This particular evaluation found that “developing countries are more likely to consider resource issues as high costs, under developed infrastructure and lack of technical expertise to be barriers to telemedicine, [whereas] developed countries are more likely to consider legal issues surrounding patient privacy and confidentiality… to be barriers to telemedicine implementation.”
Telehealth is more all-inclusive with regard to videoconferencing and streaming for both clinical and non-clinical purposes. Using technology, individuals can access mental health professionals with specializations in different fields to suit their needs. This is particularly beneficial for individuals in remote areas, who would normally have to travel long distances to seek professional help for mental health issues. Even those in large cities can benefit. For instance, while some people are intimidated by technology, others find videoconferencing to be a less threatening (and less time consuming) alternative to going to into a therapist or psychiatrist’s office. In addition, this provides a platform for education and training, such as webinars, videos and live streaming presentations for mental health professionals.
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, help is available. The California Mental Health Helpline is open 24/7 to provide you with resources and connect you with a treatment center in your area. Call to speak with a professional today.