Summary: In recent years, many telehealth platforms have sprung up. Tele mental help has some distinct benefits like accessibility and lower cost. However, experts think that telehealth platforms for mental health conditions may not be effective in many cases. There are many reasons why experts doubt the efficacy of these platforms. Mental health specialists working on these platforms are not well paid. These are often specialists with minimum experience in managing mental health conditions. Although video calls seem to be quite helpful, other ways of communication like texting are not proven to be effective ways of providing help to those with mental health issues.
There are also concerns regarding virtual pharmacies, as these platforms prescribe drugs without seeing the patient and physical examination. Telehealth has some distinct benefits over traditional medicine. It makes healthcare more accessible, with lower consultation fees, better availability, and higher communication. This does make it one of the excellent ways of providing mental healthcare. Nonetheless, it also lacks some of the traits of traditional medicine and the benefits of face-to-face meetings. Additionally, therapists providing help on some online platforms may lack the expertise to manage mental health issues remotely. Thus, experts are skeptical about the benefits of telehealth.
In recent years, telehealth startups have grown significantly, and the industry is undergoing a boom. This may be explained by increasing rates of mental health issues. CDC data shows that almost 40% of US adults are living with mental health issues or substance use disorders1. These are significant numbers. It is not possible to provide help to so many people by using traditional methods. This underlines the importance of exploring innovative methods of providing help to those who need it most. It appears that telehealth may be the way.
Experts Remain Skeptical About Tele Help for Mental Health
The sheer number of people living with mental health issues shows that mental health therapists cannot cope with the problem through traditional channels. This has forced millions of people to turn to online telehealth startups like BetterHelp, and other similar platforms. These platforms provide quick help through face-to-face online meet and also texting. However, there are many issues associated with these platforms. For example, these platforms have lower consultation fees when compared to traditional therapists. However, experts say that this also means less attention to the patient. Additionally, many psychologists and mental health specialists on these platforms are not experienced enough. Many of these therapists are just starting their journey and are ill-trained to provide adequate help. There are also concerns regarding how these online platforms offer support.
Therapy via Texting
Mental healthcare experts are also skeptical about the way online platforms deliver help. Two main ways of understanding patients’ problems and providing psychological support are face-to-face video calls and texting. Though many claim that these methods work, there is still limited data regarding their efficacy. Among these two methods, direct face-to-face virtual interaction seems to work, as there is some research into the subject. Some studies suggest that these online calls may be as effective as visiting the therapist’s office. However, such interaction would be helpful only in some mental health conditions and not all mental health issues2. There is a complete lack of data when it comes to the efficacy of messaging, texting, and other similar methods. Therefore, it is difficult to say if such methods have significant value in managing mental health issues. However, experts say this is the predominant way of providing help on the telemental health care platforms.
Another significant concern is the virtual prescriptions that are merely based on the doctor-patient interaction. Even this interaction is often concise. In many cases, doctors need to prescribe antidepressants, psychotropic substances, and other controlled substances. In the case of telehealth, they do it without a physical examination and sufficient testing. This is quite worrisome. DEA has temporarily allowed prescribing controlled substances virtually, mainly due to Covid-193. Some healthcare experts think that patients may even imitate mental health issues, get virtual prescriptions, and then abuse these substances. This can do more harm than good. To conclude, this is not to suggest that telemedicine services are not helpful. However, it has its limitations. It may be good in some cases, but in most cases, the traditional way of visiting the healthcare provider is safe and effective.
By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA