The last several weeks have been unprecedented and left us all scrambling to adjust to life in quarantine. Many businesses have opted to utilize video conferencing platforms such as Zoom or Skype for online meetings or webinars that allow the participants to hear and see each other via shared screens and computer webcams. Others rely on email and phone calls to communicate.
Many mental and physical healthcare practitioners also are moving toward this technology to treat or meet with patients without physical contact. This service is known as telehealth or telemedicine.
What Is Telehealth or Telemedicine?
According to Medicaid, telemedicine (or telehealth) services seek to improve a patient’s health by permitting two-way, real-time interactive communication between the patient and practitioner from different locations, using a mobile device or computer that allows video and voice capabilities.
In situations when the practitioner and patient can’t meet in person, this offers a great alternative to extending the reach of healthcare advice and treatment. Telehealth services can be used for medical treatment and mental health care.
Why Would I Use Telehealth Services?
Practitioners use telehealth services to reach patients in rural areas who may not have access to the same type or level of care available in larger urban areas. During COVID-19, telehealth has provided another option to receive important mental health or physician services while still maintaining social distancing mandates. But no matter what system your clinician or therapist uses, it’s important to understand that your telehealth session is private, just like a visit to your doctor’s office.
Your clinician or therapist will have procedural safeguards in place to protect your privacy, just like during a face-to-face session. Headphones or earbuds provide a level of privacy within your home setting. Your clinician will also be alone, so the session is just between the two of you (unless you choose to include other members of your household, such as for a family therapy session). When you reach out to schedule your appointment, your clinician or service provider will offer instructions on how to connect for your appointment.
My Personal Experience Using Telehealth
For my 15-year-old with autism spectrum disorder, it’s been vital to maintain perspective and treat his anxiety. The third week into quarantine, my son fell apart. He escalated to the point where he was making self-harm comments. For families who have children with behavioral health challenges, they may have a safety plan to follow during those moments. For us, it’s to call the crisis line at our local children’s hospital. For other families, it may be calling 9-1-1 or following other protocols. When we call the crisis line and identify who we are, those notes are sent to his providers within the hospital system. The very next day, we received phone calls to set up telehealth appointments with both his psychiatrist and therapist.
Our healthcare system uses Zoom and the school counselor uses Google Hangouts for appointments. In our case, the telehealth visits allowed my son to open up and share even more than he would in the clinicians’ offices. He was more comfortable in our home environment and had our dog on his lap as an extra comfort measure. I attended both appointments with my son at his request. These appointments can be done with family or one-on-one, per the patient’s or clinician’s preference.
SAFY Utilizes Telehealth Services During Shelter in Place Quarantines
SAFY is currently using telehealth to provide mental health services for families and children in our network in all states we service. Therapy services are provided via Skype to protect our staff and families and children from exposure as we follow social distancing guidelines. Our Skype technology allows us to use video and sound over laptops, iPad and iPhones.
If you would like to make a referral or learn about our telehealth services, contact SAFY online or call 800-532-7239.