Telemental health (also known as “telebehavioral health,” “e-counseling,” “e-therapy,” “online therapy,” “cybercounseling,” or “online counseling”) has gone mainstream in a big way. The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly accelerated its use as non-urgent in-person appointments were restricted.
“Telemental health” is the provision of remote mental health care services (using modalities including videoconferencing, computer programs, and mobile applications) by a variety of different mental health providers, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists. Behavioral health care models have evolved over the years to include hospitals establishing telepsychiatric assessment programs in their emergency departments as well as the creation of virtual networks of mental health professionals providing services to underserved geographic areas.
Five key reasons exist for the ever-increasing popularity of telemental health services:
- Telehealth as a care modality is a good fit for providing mental health services because mental health providers rarely have to lay hands on their patients, even in the context of conventional face-to-face care encounters. Thus, providing the same services remotely using telehealth technology is not viewed as far removed from the way these services are provided in the in-person context.
- Telemental health services have been accepted by a large (and growing) number of payors as a legitimate use for telehealth, more so than other telehealth disciplines, and will help facilitate access for many patients who, for logistical or geographical reasons, are unable to see their mental health provider in person.
- Virtual mental health care may enhance the quality of the communications between mental health providers and their patients by reducing the stigma that sometimes is associated with a patient physically visiting a mental health provider.
- A combination of factors, including the prevalence of mental illness and a mental health provider shortage, is incentivizing stakeholders to look for innovative alternative care models to use in lieu of in-person care.
- Patients surveyed regarding their use of telemental health services have consistently stated that they believe telemental health is a credible and effective practice of medicine—studies have found little or no difference in patient satisfaction as compared with face-to-face mental health interactions.
Epstein Becker Green attorneys have an in-depth focus on the regulation of telehealth, mobile health, health information technology, and other software and remote monitoring applications used in the health care context, including telemental/telebehavioral health. We have been at the forefront of the development of global regulatory policy for health information technology and integrally involved in the regulatory challenges facing the telemental health market.
In addition, having helped launch dozens of national telehealth platforms, we maintain a comprehensive collection of state regulatory requirements for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. We assembled all of this information in a free app. Our Telemental Health Laws app, which is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices, provides users with state-specific content relating to the regulatory requirements for professional mental / behavioral health practitioners and stakeholders seeking to provide telehealth-focused services. App users can educate themselves with the rules in each state, ask more targeted questions, and get better prepared for the strategic rollout of their telehealth network.