It’s called closing the loop.
It’s a circle of video communication in the medical industry that starts and ends with the patient and connects every health professional they encounter along their path from symptom to diagnosis and treatment and on to recovery.
That’s the philosophy behind new telemental health services that keep patients, their doctors and caregivers all within close, constant contact via video conferencing. It’s a way of forging personal connections before and after every stage of the treatment process, and it’s designed to maximize patient comfort and confidence.
It’s currently being rolled out in a variety of forms, like a social network of healthcare.
Why Telemental Health Services?
Mental health care is particularly suited to the digital communications age. The conversational, non-invasive nature of assessment, diagnosis, and treatment means it can be largely recreated over remote technologies such as video conferencing. Just as your Skype call to a loved one far away can recreate the intimacy of a private conversion, so telemental health services can provide the privacy and trust of an in-person session. Telemental health, by the way, refers to any mental health service that’s performed remotely–whether over the phone or even by email and text, though (of course) we’re focusing on the video conferencing version.
The advantage of providing such services over the internet is that it removes the need for travel. That means expert services can be brought to rural and small communities that couldn’t normally justify the expense of local facilities, such as a recent program launched by the University of Iowa to provide assistance to families of autistic children.
But it can also be used over smaller distances to coordinate the meeting of multiple experts for an instant consultation and to keep everyone in a patient’s network of health professionals informed about diagnosis, treatment, and progress.
Connecting Hospitals, Social Workers, and Patients
Canada’s Fraser Health is currently building just such a videoconferencing network. It is using real-time video communications to link area hospitals directly to community mental health centers and patients in their own homes.
Prior to their discharge, the patient and their doctor use a video call to meet the community health teams that will take over the patient’s care.
The connection currently begins while patients are undergoing mental health treatment in a hospital. Prior to their discharge, the patient and their doctor use a video call to meet the community health teams that will take over the patient’s care. It’s designed to ensure a smoother transition to the next phase of recovery, keeping everyone informed and involved at a conversational level.
The program will eventually reach that closed loop stage by connecting caregivers with the original doctor in their office and the patient in their home.
VC Daily has previously speculated on the creation of this exact kind of continuous circle of communication. We discussed expanding a similar video conferencing health care transition service being established by Union Hospital in Elkton, Maryland into a comprehensive, ongoing service. That service was focused on physical rehabilitation from injury and illness, but as we mentioned earlier, there’s reason to believe a telemental program would have even greater success.
Telemental Health Services in Every Setting
We’ve seen mental health services across a wide variety of settings successfully make the transition to online treatments. There’s a program currently underway among some of the biggest universities in Texas that provides mini video counseling sessions to stressed college students. The criminal justice system is even onboard, with law enforcement in Washington state using an online mental health assessment done over video conferencing to determine the mental health of defendants before they stand trial. Finally, recent research has shown that treatments for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder over video call are just as effective as traditional in-room programs.
What we need to do now is expand the reach of the Canadian model discussed above and apply it to the realities of the U.S.
Further backing up the credibility of telemental health services is a recent report from researchers in South Korea that shows employees who accessed digital mental health therapies–including video conferencing sessions with a therapist–enjoyed the same low levels of stress as peers who attended in-room sessions. The upside to the digital version for both employer and employee is that it reduces the time away from the office simply by removing the need for travel during the working day.
So, telemental health services work. What we need to do now is expand the reach of the Canadian model discussed above and apply it to the realities of the U.S.
Digital Mental Health Hubs
The Fraser Health model above is unnecessarily tied to health care facilities located in a common area. As with any digital transition, it has taken an existing model and digitized the intermediate steps. While it has and will continue to make things easier for patients, it hasn’t let video conferencing show its full potential.
What should be embraced are the kind of online medical connections currently being implemented in Texas and New Mexico. Under government funding, both states have established digital networks of medical experts and their patients that stretch right across rural areas of those states.
The services created by Texas and New Mexico bring expert opinions and treatments to rural communities by connecting local doctors with big city peers.
The services created by Texas and New Mexico bring expert opinions and treatments to rural communities by connecting local doctors with big city peers. This drastically reduces travel for regional patients while still giving them access to the latest medical knowledge. It’s yet another way that video conferencing encourages communication between doctors.
Once we attach that kind of scale to a telemental health services network like the one in Canada, we may see a digital revolution in mental health care.
Your Daily Video Conferencing House Call
Under this kind of system a patient would have regular face-to-face contact with the same mental health experts throughout their recovery. After an initial visit to their local hospital or primary care doctor, the patient could hold a three-way consultation involving a mental health expert anywhere in the country. Everyone would get the same information, share the roadmap to recovery, and stay in touch throughout the process. Once the patient returns home, they can mix their regular online meetings with a social worker or caregiver with catch-up calls to either of their original doctors.
The regular video conversations would maintain a continuity of care and an ease of consultation that would encourage the patient to continue with their treatment and transition back to full health. The loop is closed and the patient remains at the heart of a dedicated digital circle of mental healthcare.