Since the start of 2020, the world has been gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic, and public health organizations have had to implement a number of strategies to curb its spread. As most of the United States’ population have been advised to stay indoors and only leave the house if absolutely necessary, most retail outlets and hospitality services have seen a period of closure. However, since emergency services, hospitals, therapists, and medical clinics cannot be shut down, a dilemma emerged — how can these vital services remain open to the public, but still prevent the transfer of the Coronavirus amongst the public?
The growth of Telemedicine.
Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, and virtual/online therapy, has actually been around since the 1950s. Initially intended to help senior citizens and people who lived in more rural areas, this remote form of healthcare and therapy was mostly conducted over the phone. With the growth of technology, telehealth services also grew to include video conferencing and remote medical instrumentation to help with the diagnosis and treatment of those in need. Online therapy sessions have also been known to help with patients who are unable to leave the house for a variety of reasons, or for whom an in-person therapy session was not needed; such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT).
However, since the start of the pandemic, the use of telehealth services has increased by massive amounts, after an initial rise of 154% in the later weeks of March. With restrictions replaced on the movement of people, healthcare services had be provided through the form of online therapy instead, even if the services they provided were not linked to coronavirus therapies.
Online appointments, do they retain quality?
For many forms of therapy, speaking to a patient is not a necessity for the online therapist. To reuse the example of cognitive behavior therapy, much can be achieved through video calling or a series of instructional videos. Due to a large lack of physical symptoms, mental health therapy is also not required to be face-to-face but is traditionally the preferred method to provide an assuring element to the patients.
However, there is a general consensus that if therapy is delivered online and lacks the “human touch,” then it is somehow less effective and less regulated than a traditional practice. However, for a licensed therapist to practice using online therapy, they must first be compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). The HIPAA standardizes all practices of therapies and healthcare in the country and makes sure that methodology is both transparent and held to a high standard, but maintaining anonymity for the patient. In layman’s terms, if online therapy is not HIPAA-compliant, then it cannot take place.
An Example of Virtual Therapy
The number of forms of therapy that can be moved online has also grown in the last year. One of the biggest examples is in hearing care as online hearing assessments are becoming more commonplace. Hearing Health USA can perform a myriad of services online that ordinarily, patients would need to speak to an audiologist directly about.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Hearing Health USA has now moved hearing consultations and hearing assessments online, since a noise test can be performed with a pair of headphones plugged into the speaker. Hearing therapists and professionals also follow up with discussions using the same online therapy platform. Also, for pre-existing patients, they perform hearing aid services, such as device fine-tuning, with patients in video calls.
Online therapy can also be extended to end of life care as well, ensuring that a terminally ill patient has the support of counselors and is able to get all of their affairs in order before their passing. For many, end of life care is an expense that cannot be afforded, with life insurance policies taking over the funding of funerals and inheritances when the insured party passes away. However, those who are suffering from a terminal illness can “sell” their life insurance to a third party beneficiary for a cash value that is less than the payout would be when the insured dies (otherwise known as a “death benefit”).
The third-party would go on to continue paying the premiums for the life insurance policy until the original life insurance policyholder passes away, at which point they can receive the death benefit. However, the original insured party can spend the money they received for their life insurance policy on end-of-life care and therapy instead. This is known as a Viatical Settlement. For more information on viaticals, visit the American Life Fund’s website.
Beyond physical health.
As well as one’s physical health, telemedicine is also the current basis for many one-to-one therapy sessions, for those who are struggling with poor mental health at this time. Counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists have all reported a rise in patients requiring help from a mental health professional as a result of the pandemic, as isolationism and loneliness have increased, almost in parallel with COVID-19 cases. The message from them regarding mental health is clear — help is only a phone call away. Or better still, a video chat.
WithTherapy, a group of online therapists and mental health professionals consisting of counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists; are on hand to provide online therapy to those who seek it. They also base their mental health care sessions online, both to minimize the risk of viral transmission and to provide specialist treatment in a manner that is more convenient to the patient. Their therapy is also HIPAA-compliant but has fewer limits than an in-person appointment would have. With online therapists, mental health services can be at a time of the patients choosing, and with video calling, at a location of the patients choosing too.
In addition, many counselors and other mental health professionals have started to transfer their mental health therapy services online as the ability to remain anonymous is also enhanced with virtual therapy. Online therapy platforms don’t require the use of video conferencing or personal information to be shared and this gives a little more confidence to those who find there is a stigma to mental health issues, but are still experiencing them.