My colleagues and I recently published a meta-analysis comparing synchronous telehealth therapy to standard care for the reduction of depression symptoms. Telehealth describes the use of technology to connect patients and providers separated by distance and time. Synchronous telehealth therapy uses videoconferencing or teleconferencing to conduct therapy with patients.
Standard care, on the other hand, may involve non-telehealth approaches such as face-to-face therapy where patients meet routinely in an office setting with a psychologist, social worker or other specialist. Care-as-usual is an industry term meaning no specific therapy is involved but providers offer prescriptions for medicines, resources and recommendations (phone numbers for help lines, websites and books).
We specifically looked at synchronous telehealth because it’s a growing trend in care for those in rural areas with limited access to providers and for those who may fear the stigma associated with receiving psychotherapy. We found no statistically significant differences between the effectiveness of synchronous telehealth therapy and regular (non-telehealth) care for reducing depression symptoms. This is good because it shows that in the “effects of the treatment,” it doesn’t matter if a patient sees a provider via telephone, video or in-person.
Additionally, we compared the effects of telehealth treatment individually to face-to-face therapy and care-as-usual. There were no differences between telehealth and face-to-face therapy but there was a significantly higher effectiveness for telehealth treatment than care-as-usual. Other researchers have published similar examinations of synchronous telehealth therapy compared to non-telehealth therapy for reduction of posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and found comparable results.
Tying into the telehealth therapy trend, another colleague at T2 looked into the usability and feasibility of doing synchronous telehealth therapy over FaceTime (Apple’s version of Skype) with active-duty service members, and their reactions were mostly positive. The service members didn’t mind the small screen size or holding the phone to video chat. This is great news for providers who want to check out the possibility of administering therapy using technologies such as Skype or FaceTime.
As telehealth technologies continue to rapidly advance, more patients may demand access to health care professionals via telehealth methods. Not only does treatment via telehealth technologies provide health care services to those in rural or hard-to-reach communities, it also reduces the burden of travel time to appointments and delay in care. Further, providers who use telehealth have greatly reduced costs (no office requirement, easier access to patients, easier management of irregular hours, etc.). But, many insurance companies don’t yet reimburse health care professionals for telehealth therapy with their patients. So, before you jump on the telehealth bandwagon, check with your insurance company.
For more information about telehealth and how you can put it into practice, check out the telehealth programs featured on the T2 website. And, connect with T2 via its Mobile Health Blog, Facebook or on Twitter for more on telehealth and mobile technology supporting psychological health and traumatic brain injury care.