The Online Couch: how “safe Skyping” is changing the relationship for patients and therapists

Skype and videoconferencing have surpassed the tipping point of consumer adoption. Grandparents Skype with grandchildren living far, far away. Soldiers converse daily with families from Afghanistan and Iraq war theatres. Workers streamline telecommuting by videoconferencing with colleagues in geographically distributed offices.

In the era of DIY’ing all aspects of life, more health citizens are taking to DIY’ing health — and, increasingly, looking beyond physical health for convenient access to mental and behavioral health services.

The Online Couch: Mental Health Care on the Web is my latest paper for the California HealthCare Foundation. Among a range of emerging tech-enabled mental health services is videoconferencing, for which there is a growing roster of choices for platforms that market a variety of features beyond pure communications.

Patient need and demand for therapy to address mild to moderate depression and anxiety is on the rise. And, people include mental health in their overall definition of health and wellness, as evidenced in the Edelman Health Engagement Barometer survey shown in the second graphic.

As an example of one such platform, I discuss Breakthrough, which is working with two payers in California and plans to expand to other states. However, there are many other organizations targeting the mental health videoconferencing space for providers, including California LiveVisit, CMS TelehealthCobalt Therapeutics, COPE Today, E Mental Health CenterHealthLinkNow (which just received a substantial innovation grant from the Centers for Medicare and Medical Services to provide mental health medical home services to patients in Montana and Wyoming), MDLiveCare Health ServicesNefsisSecure Telehealth, and Voyager National Telepsychiatry Network. The list seems to grow by the month with new announcements in this area that is crowding quickly.

In addition, several communications companies offer enterprisewide platforms directly to groups of providers of psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and social workers, including AdobeConnect, Abilto, HomepsychLifeOptions, Polycom, Secure Video Conference, Shepell-fgi, V2VIP, and vSee.

A third fast-growing segment of online therapy targets consumers directly. These include Anxiety Online, iCouch, My Virtual Shrink, Mentaline, Online Therapy, and VIA3, among others.

With this expanding array of options for online and mobile therapy, what’s a consumer or provider to do? Many health plans are incorporating virtual platforms into their mental health offerings, vetting the suppliers in advance of the point-of-prescribing. But some consumers are seeking care themselves, separate from the health care system and sponsoring health plans, paying for services on their own. In these cases, it’s a caveat emptor world where consumers must compare the vendors’ approaches to security and privacy, and the organizations’ vetting of providers’ credentials. There’s not a lot of transparency in this space yet, so for consumers, word-of-mouth and social networks will be informing many peoples’ decisions in this early-adoption phase.

To bolster quality interactions between patients and therapists, the American Telemedicine Association has an expert-guided Telemental Health Special Interest Group that has assembled best practice guidelines on the topic, downloadable from the SIG website.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: There is growing demand for services addressing mild to moderate depression, with people looking for more convenient formats beyond traditional face-to-face therapeutic milieus.

In addition to online videoconferencing, patients looking for help with mild to moderate depression and anxiety might be able to receive services through self-administered computer-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT), mobile health apps, therapy-oriented games, virtual reality, and online social networks. For more on these platforms, and the market forces aligning that are driving this market forward, take a look into the report, The Online Couch: Mental Health Care on the Web.

6 Responses to The Online Couch: how “safe Skyping” is changing the relationship for patients and therapists

  1. liza matthews June 18, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    That is very interesting!
    I am a Registered nurse considering a higher degree.. im wondering if Nursing informatic’s is the way to go with my degree since the digital demand seems to be increasing. Any thoughts on this, from the medical staff perspective?

  2. Michele June 19, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    Any resources for speech therapists online like your mentioned websites?

  3. Darlene June 21, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

    This is the way to go. There are so many barriers for people that may need help from financial to cultural. This type of therapy is bridge that gap. It’s a great direction for the therapeutic field.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. How “safe Skyping” is changing the relationship for patients and therapists | Digital Health Journal - June 18, 2012

    [...] on healthpopuli.com Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in [...]

  2. Telemedicine tackles mental health treatment | News in Mind - June 28, 2012

    [...] “In addition to online videoconferencing, patients looking for help with mild to moderate depression and anxiety might be able to receive services through self-administered computer-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT), mobile health apps, therapy-oriented games, virtual reality, and online social networks,” Sarasohn-Kahn wrote in a post on her Health Populi blog. [...]

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    [...] Most recently, the American Telemedicine Association has established a list of best practices to ensure optimal interactions between patients and therapists. To read more, click here. [...]

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