Telehealth a boost to mental health as we all learn to cope

One positive result of this pandemic is telehealth, specifically for those clinicians working in the mental health space.

The pandemic has robbed us of our day-to-day rituals and distractions that can help strengthen our mental health. Shopping was panic-inducing until just a few weeks ago. Who wouldn’t feel like calling up a counselor?

Back in March, Gov. Charlie Baker mandated that clinicians could provide telehealth and that all insurance companies had to allow it and reimburse the provider at the same level as if they were in the office.

This is a huge leap forward for people seeking mental support according to Caitlin Schwager, director of communications for Boston-based Commonwealth Psychology Associates. Their practice has 65 clinicians and they treat more than 3,000 patients.

For several years health-care providers have advocated for telehealth but until March it was not allowed by many health insurance companies.

“Many health plans would not cover telehealth for their customers for behavioral health and if they did allow it, telehealth services were reimbursed at a lower level to providers. So it was a  disincentive because providers  earn less money for the same work,” Schwager said.

Their practice learned of this problem a few years ago when they launched a pilot program to offer some patients the ability to call in and speak with their therapists.

One major reason why people don’t seek mental support is access. That could be because they live in an area where there are not a lot of therapists or their ability to actually get to the appointments which could be because of childcare or a disability.

Being able to pick up the phone and call your therapist now and save that added drive time is a huge benefit.

This mandate is really about  equity and access to care and provides consistency across all insurance carriers.

The pandemic has caused a lot of people to seek support because of depression and anxiety. Commonwealth Psychology Associates  is at capacity and is looking to hire more clinicians to meet the current demand.

The mental health industry applauds this change and hopes it becomes permanent. Lawmakers on Beacon Hill are working on a bill currently to address the issue.

Telehealth just makes so much sense for all forms of health care. It never made much sense to me to go see a doctor every time you get sick. A Lot of issues can be sorted over the phone.

Massachusetts has always been a pioneer in health care and lawmakers should do their part to ensure telehealth remains available to all who want it in the commonwealth.

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