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Bridging the Gap: How Virtual Care Can Help the Mental Health Care Crisis

The month of May is observed as Mental Health Month by Mental Health America (MHA).  MHA promotes mental health as a critical part of overall wellness, including prevention services for all, early identification and intervention for those at risk, integrated care, services, and supports for those who need it, with recovery as the goal.  According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the National Institute of Mental Health, the prevalence and impact of mental health conditions is significant:

  • 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition
  • 56% American adults with mental illness did not receive treatment in 2016
  • $100 billion is estimated in lost productivity per year due to untreated mental illness in the U.S.

There is a nationwide shortage of mental health professionals.  Patients are faced with wait times for appointments.  In an interview with Chicago Tonight, Dr. Joanne May, from Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, noted that “in, Chicago it’s not unusual to be told you have to wait anywhere from three to 10 months for a psychiatrist appointment.”  Across Illinois – which ranks in the top 10 in the nation for such shortages – there are 126 areas where there is a shortage of mental health professionals, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration Data Warehouse.

A recent analysis by the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration estimates that the shortage will become more acute over the next decade.  An additional 10,000 providers are needed for each of seven separate mental healthcare professions by 2025 to meet the expected growth in demand.

Given the current and future shortage, Virtual care can help address the workforce gap and patient needs for improved access to mental health support in the following ways:

  • Consult: By providing quick access to remote mental specialists, a virtual care platform can enable a hospital’s medical staff to facilitate a virtual consult between specialists and patients.  Instead of waiting hours in the ER for an in-person consult, a virtual consult will help the medical team determine if hospital admission or transport to another facility is needed in a more timely manner.
  • Capacity: By allowing mental health professionals the ability to communicate with patients via any device, anywhere, and at any time, virtual care technology provides specialists with more convenient options in terms of when and where they provide patient care.  Specialists will have greater flexibility – and more can be available remotely – in providing virtual consults round the clock.
  • Comfort: By enabling patients to use their devices from the comfort of their own home, a virtual care platform can help those patients who are uncomfortable being seen / recognized when visiting a clinic in their neighborhood.  Patients will also not be further challenged by the need to arrange for transportation and time to travel to/from the appointments. Travel costs related to follow-up appointments can be reduced.
  • Collaboration: By using video conferencing platforms, mental health professionals can better collaborate with the greater care team across the continuum of care.
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