COLUMBUS, Ohio – After a year of talking with patients via Zoom, phone and sometimes FaceTime, some central Ohio mental health providers are confident that telemedicine is here to stay, even after the pandemic goes away.
Kristen Carpenter, director of ambulatory services at Ohio State Harding Hospital, said the hospital did some telehealth services before the pandemic, but it mostly was used to connect different emergency rooms and to provide emergency psychiatric care. But with COVID-19, the hospital went from providing “almost 100% in-person care to almost 100% care via telehealth” almost immediately, she said.
Now, with about 90% of Harding’s outpatient care still provided via telehealth, Carpenter said she foresees a future where patients can choose how they’d like to receive their care.
“Our patients have experienced almost no interruption in their care,” she said. “We have been able to provide care that we never thought we could do via telehealth.”
Harding currently offers individual counseling and psychiatry services in person and via telehealth. Its partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient program — a structured three- to four-week treatment program that typically requires patients to attend full-day group sessions in the hospital — now takes place over Zoom.
John Dawson, interim president and CEO of Community for New Direction, also sees telemedicine in the nonprofit group’s future — even though it had offered no telehealth services before the pandemic.
“We have a higher show rate …There's so many barriers to mental health and substance use disorder patients getting to appointments that telehealth has helped tremendously in that area," he said.
A new study finds during the first few months of the pandemic, patients were more likely to use telehealth services for behavioral health treatment than physical conditions, according to a January study published recently by RAND Corp. The study shows that 53.6% of patients with a behavioral health condition sought treatment via telehealth from mid-March to early May of 2020. By comparison, 43.2% of patients with a chronic physical condition used telehealth to receive care during the same period.
Providing services via phone or video conferencing has broken down many barriers including unreliable access to transportation and work conflicts, Carpenter said. At Harding, for example, there are fewer emergency cancellations and lower no-show rates because of telehealth appointments, she said.
As with other things provided remotely, however, there are some drawbacks.