Telemental health has gone mainstream. Also referred to as “telebehavioral health,” “e-counseling,” “e-therapy,” “online therapy,” “cybercounseling,” or “online counseling,” 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 evident boom in the provision 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 payers as a legitimate use for telehealth, more so than other telehealth disciplines.
- Virtual mental health care may enhance the quality of the communications between a mental health provider and his or her 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 telemedicine, 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.