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The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us rethinking the face-to-face interactions we once took for granted. Everything from grocery shopping to banking to dining now carries additional, unseen risk. As a result, people are looking for virtual solutions they can use to accomplish everyday tasks and minimize their risk of infection.

The healthcare industry is moving fast to adopt these virtual tools. Since the pandemic broke, clinics around the country have limited in-person appointments for primary care to limit the spread of the virus. To fill the gap, providers are turning to telephone appointments and, increasingly, video conferencing. These solutions — referred to generally as telemedicine — represent an exciting new opportunity to increase access to healthcare and improve the efficiency of delivery.

A Growing Technology

Telemedicine is positioned to break into the mainstream thanks to recent technological advances that allow for secure, real-time phone and video communication. A recent analysis by the business consulting firm Frost and Sullivan predicts a 63% increase in telemedicine usage across the country due to COVID-19 disruptions. The firm expects this trend to continue in the coming years, forecasting “a sevenfold growth in telemedicine by 2025 — a five-year compound annual growth rate of 38.2%.”

The benefits of this new technology extend well beyond primary care. Telemedicine has the potential to make a significant contribution to the mental health field, and evidence points to a tremendous well of pent-up demand. For example, Talkspace, a virtual mental health platform that connects users with licensed therapists for text-based or video treatment, has over 1 million users in 10 countries — including celebrities like Olympic gold-medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps. More recently, Talkspace has seen a 65% increase in users since the coronavirus outbreak in late February.

People Aren’t Receiving the Care They Need

Talkspace is just one example of the growing need for improved mental health care in the United States. Nationwide, more than half of patients who would benefit from mental health care don’t receive it. And this treatment gap has a significant impact on the country’s overall health. Consider these statistics:

Virtual solutions are an excellent fit for meeting this tremendous need because, in most cases, mental health providers don’t need to conduct a physical exam. Instead, they just need to connect with their patients on an emotional level and have a conversation. 

The Benefits of Telemedicine in Mental Health

This approach to care isn’t a second-rate option, either. Studies show that telemedicine is just as effective — if not more effective — at treating depression than traditional face-to-face treatment. Virtual mental health treatment also offers several additional benefits, including:  

  • Expanded Access: Many people in rural areas don’t have access to mental and behavioral health care. Telemedicine services allow them to connect with providers located anywhere in the country.  
  • Convenience: Between the demands of child care, career obligations, and other responsibilities, it’s hard for some people to make time for regular mental health appointments. Telemedicine allows anyone with a computer, camera, and broadband access to get treatment.
  • Reduced Stigma: While the stigma against mental health issues is decreasing, it may prevent some people from seeking help. Telemedicine allows anyone to receive treatment in the spaces where they’re most comfortable.
  • Expanded Addiction Treatment: Some see virtual mental health treatment as one way to fight the opioid epidemic, which has hit rural communities especially hard. The United States Department of Agriculture has set up telemedicine grants for Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky, specifically targeting opioid abuse.
  • Broader Provider Reach: From a business standpoint, telemedicine allows mental health providers to expand their practice beyond their local community. 

The possibilities for this new treatment area are very exciting for providers and patients alike.

Physician Assistants in Mental Health

Just as telemedicine stands to make a significant impact in the field of mental health, physician assistants (PAs) are poised to grow their influence as mental health providers. PAs are well-suited for the field because their training serves as an excellent bridge between primary care and mental health care. While working in partnership with psychiatrists, PAs collaborate on patient progress, treatment strategies, prescriptions, and more.

PAs can also help expand a single psychiatrist’s reach and help address the shortage of mental health professionals. At some hospitals, PAs and psychiatrists work together to provide 7-day treatment availability.

Want to Learn More?

Using these exciting new telemedicine tools, PAs have an incredible opportunity to make a life-changing difference for their patients. Physician Assistant Solutions can help if you’re a PA who’d like to explore a career in mental health. We are dedicated physician assistant recruiters who provide career matching services that connect great PAs with great employers. By working with us, you’ll be able to take the next great step in your career. Contact us today to learn how you can get started.

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