Behavioral HealthTelehealth

Increased Telehealth Adoption in Behavioral Health

By March 18th, 2020No Comments

Making the Case for Increased Telehealth Adoption in Behavioral Health

In the United States there are millions of people who are in need of behavioral care but are unable or unwilling to access such services through traditional systems. The National Alliance on Mental Illness supports these claims in their research by citing that nearly 60% of adults and 50% of youth’s ages 8-15 years old with a mental illness sought care in the previous year. According to research from NAMI, nearly 61.5 million Americans suffered from at least one form of a mental illness in a given year. Additionally, The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has reported that depression is the third most common reason to visit a HRSA Health Center, after diabetes and hypertension.

The uptick in behavioral health issues in America is growing problem that is showing no signs of slowing down and poses a tremendous health risk to the individual sufferers. The World Health Organization has reported that people with severe mental illness experience a 10-25 year decrease in life expectancy compared to the general population. Consequently, increasing numbers of mental health care advocates have adopted telehealth solutions for behavioral health to address the on-going mental health crisis in the United States.

Recent government findings by the HRSA evidences that telehealth provides a viable, economically sustainable model of care delivery that offers greater levels of access to mental health care professionals to those in need. However, before we begin to examine some of telehealth’s benefits within the behavioral health context, it makes sense to examine some of the existing barriers to care that the telehealth platform is uniquely positioned to address.

Typical barriers to those seeking mental health care

The fear of social stigma, mobility issues and lack of awareness of treatment options are some of the cited factors that prevent people from getting the care they need. Notably, the symptoms of the mental disorders themselves can cause barriers to those seeking care, as well as increase the difficulty a patient has following any medical advice given. The mental healthcare community itself can sometimes become an obstacle. A recent WHO report cites healthcare providers barriers that include: the attitudes of health care workers, disregard for physical health concerns by caregivers, and a lack of communication between healthcare professionals providing physical and mental healthcare. Additionally, Behavioral health care in the U.S. is generally harder to access than other health services, due to factors like a shortage of qualified behavioral health providers and coverage limits by public and private payers. It would be fair to say that any combination of a factors can inhibit a prospective patient from getting the care they need, including poor self-perception, financial concerns and disparity, geographical access constraints, and the negative stereotypes associated with mental illness in our culture.

How Telehealth can be used to treat mental illness

Broadly speaking, telebehavioral health can take two forms:

• A non-behavioral care provider can use telehealth technology to conduct a distance-based consultation with a behavioral health specialist to discuss how to handle patient’s mental health needs. In the parlance of telehealth, this is called a consultation.

• A patient can participate in a videoconference session with a behavioral health specialist. This is called an encounter.

Both approaches have been successfully put into place by a select number of safety net programs funded by HHS and HRSA.

What are some of the benefits of telebehavioral health programs?

The value of all types of telehealth, including telebehavioral health, can be viewed through three major facets, including: 1.) Potential cost savings, 2.) Increased efficiencies, and 3.) Expanded access to services.

Let’s look at these areas in a bit more depth.

Improved Care Delivery. Telebehavioral health can support the health system’s move toward collaborative and integrated approaches by strengthening relationships within a team and across agencies. The proliferation of medical records and the increased capabilities for health information exchange are providing a more holistic view in to patient’s history. Technology such as Fonemed’s Population Health Platform can also provide clinicians with ready access to health indicator data for use in addressing clinical and non-clinical issues. Additionally, mental health clinics can now gain expanded access to experts, like behavioral health specialists not located within the community.

Expanded Staff Capacity. Telehealth solutions for Mental health providers can afford more much more mobility to provide services if desired – expanding the walls of a clinic’s service offering. It also presents the opportunity to tap into professional staff working part-time via a remote location.

Enhanced Training Opportunities. Best practice sessions and insight sharing are easily accomplished using telehealth tools for behavioral health. Mental health organizations are increasingly using this method to elevate expertise within their own agency’s as well as across multiple providers.

Increased Patient Acceptance. Telebehavioral health programs have found telehealth to be an effective way to work around patient fears over accessing services at a certain clinic or neighborhood. Patient transportation and mobility issues are no longer the obstacles they once were.

Cost Savings. The speed in which counseling and intervention service can be delivered versus on-site appointments is one area worth noting. On-site visits often take longer to arrange and coordinate. Telehealth also makes it possible to cut the associated costs associated with travel and saves time. Additionally, software and hardware costs for supporting a telebehavioral health program are more affordable than ever.


Telehealth provides a viable avenue that can expand patients’ options for receiving needed mental health treatment. Telebehavioral health has already proven to be one of the more successful applications of telehealth across the spectrum of clinical services as outcomes and patient acceptance for telebehavioral health are comparable to face-to-face visits. Today, both urban and rural sites alike use telehealth for consultations and patient encounters. Furthermore, telehealth is increasingly being used to facilitate staff communications across providers along with the sharing of critical patient data. As adoption of the technology grows and consumers’ awareness increases, telehealth solutions for behavioral health are expected to become an even more powerful and effective tool in combating the mental health crisis in the US. Leveraging this new platform’s capabilities appropriately can mean a significant reduction in the countless lives lost due to inadequate care and a path to greater health for millions in America and across the globe.

Learn how Fonemed provides emotional, educative and case management support in a safe, dignified and therapeutic environment by contacting us today.

If you are interested in reading more details about how we can help your behavioral health organization, check our webpage on telehealth solutions for behavioral health.