From Perk to Necessity: Telehealth and Mental Health During the Pandemic

Hannah Greenwood | | Change Management

telehealth is helping promote mental healthTelehealth has crept up here and there over the last few years, mostly as a flashy perk of certain benefits packages. But during times like these, telehealth has become a lifeline. COVID-19 has made it difficult or, in some cases, impossible to schedule some medical appointments. Then there are those who are losing many of their health benefits, like employees who have been laid off. The solution many have turned to is a virtual, on-screen option for non-emergency medical appointments. Current events have necessitated adjustments in the face of adversity. But with dedicated healthcare workers on the frontlines, patients are still able to see physicians and specialists to address their needs.

Adapting to a New Normal

The new online-appointment experience allows us to keep in touch with our doctors and stay as healthy as possible. Telehealth allows those experiencing symptoms to seek advice virtually before heading to an emergency room. This prevents unnecessarily risking exposure or taxing strained resources for those who aren't as sick as they fear. Having a doctor assess symptoms can provide peace of mind and, ultimately, can lessen the load for over-worked healthcare workers.

telehealth is protecting at-risk populationsFor those who prefer face-to-face interaction with their doctors, let’s consider some benefits of telehealth for patients. First, telehealth helps physicians reach more patients. Patients in nursing homes and extended-care facilities are among the most at risk. Telehealth allows physicians to see more of them in safer environments. Then there are those who can't take time off work to visit a physician's office, especially if everything is fine. That ties into another benefit, reducing patients' costs. Many little things translate into costs either passed on to patients by the healthcare industry or experienced by patients directly (travel costs and work time lost being the most prominent).

For those with ongoing conditions, establishing consistent remote monitoring is another asset of telehealth. The monitoring can be vital but also disruptive. By switching it to a remote format, the patient is able to take back some control over their condition. That flexibility for booking appointments is a benefit that extends to all patients.

Focus on Mental Health

Our physical health isn’t the only concern during this time. Mental health is in the spotlight as well. According to StatNews.com, “We know from studies during the SARS epidemic that quarantine has a serious effect on the mental health of healthcare workers. It predicted symptoms of acute stress disorder, depression and alcohol abuse.” NORC at the University of Chicago also performed a survey over a seven-day period involving 2,190 American adults (not healthcare workers). Their survey revealed a majority of the adults felt depressed, anxious and alone while dealing with the pandemic.

employee mental health and wellnessEveryone is experiencing their own mental-health struggles, regardless of whether they're an essential worker or not. Like physicians, mental-health counselors are taking advantage of telehealth technology to see patients on a regular basis from the safety of their homes. Having this opportunity available is a great tool to help everyone cope with these emotions and work through personal tribulations.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which emphasizes taking time to reflect and build a healthy mental state. For those meeting with mental-health professionals through video conferencing, here are a few things to keep in mind: You're not alone. There's a saying going around, "We're not all in the same boat but we're all in the same storm." Even if you don't see how others are struggling, it doesn't mean they aren't or that you're any weaker for wanting help. Your issues are significant and are worth getting the help you need. A lot of attention and concern is going to essential workers right now, but it doesn't mean the challenges you face deserve less attention. Be open minded. Talking to a therapist won't magically solve all your problems, but you may learn something along the way.

Health Benefits Adjusting to Offer Telehealth

In this radically changing time, many companies are adding telehealth to health-benefits packages to assist with the need for routine, non-symptomatic appointments. Having this additional option will help decrease absence from (remote) work even while it helps increase productivity. Including it in employee-benefits offerings also provides an easy-to-book option that saves on costs for both workers and employers.

Overall, turning to telehealth can help us adapt to the new normal. We'll need to acclimate to this technology but, in the end, it will make life easier for everyone. Whether you're struggling with flu-like symptoms or depression and anxiety, having telehealth available is helping move us forward and prepare for a return to the daily life we recognize.

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