Everyone deserves access to a mental health provider. The ability to work with a provider enables individuals to take proactive measures toward their mental health that help achieve positive outcomes. Throughout history, access to mental and behavioral health services has been disappointingly low for many and practically nonexistent for underserved communities. In recent years, measures have been taken to increase access to services such as improved coverage, the elimination of barriers, and the development of new technology, like telehealth.
Today, telehealth is making it easier for many individuals to access a mental health provider. It eliminates the need for traveling to an in-person visit. It decreases the time a person needs to take away from work in order to attend an appointment. It expands the geographical reach of a provider past their normal patient radius. Telehealth has been a fantastic tool for the field of mental and behavioral health. While this is true, underserved populations still find themselves unable to access this tool and therefore providers.
Why is Telehealth Sometimes Inaccessible?
While telehealth poses many benefits, access is still questionable for underserved communities. Underserved groups refer to those that do not have adequate access to medical, or mental health, care. This could include rural communities, seniors, low-income communities, and others. Common barriers for underserved groups include:
- Stable Internet Connection – While it may be assumed that everyone in today’s age has access to a stable internet connection, this is not the case. Many underserved communities, especially rural and low-income populations, have larger percentages of people without internet in their home.
- Digital Literacy – For populations like the seniors or those with cognitive/intellectual disabilities, there can sometimes exist a gap in understanding when it comes to how to use new technology. This can make it challenging to establish telehealth appointments.
- Language Gap – For patients whose first language is not English, a telehealth platform setup in English may be difficult to navigate.
- And More – These are just a few of the barriers that exist between telehealth and underserved communities, but there are steps providers can take to mitigate these issues.
How to Increase Telehealth Accessibility for Underserved Communities
Problem: Internet Connection
Solution: Telehealth or not, providers should always be confirming appointments with their patients ahead of time. If a patient is not able to make their appointment, they can reschedule. In some situations, it may be possible to conduct the appointment over the phone if the patient is comfortable and their policy allows for it. Lastly, utilize a telehealth solution that offers top-of-the-line security. This would allow an individual to potentially attend their appointment via a free internet hot-spot without risk.
Problem: Digital Literacy
Solution: The more information you can give your patients, the better you can prepare them. For many individuals, this might mean walking through their first telehealth appointment in-person so that they are not left to figure it out by themselves. If this is not an option, then consider making instructional videos that walk them through step-by-step how to attend their telehealth visit. It is important to have an easy-to-use telehealth solution that is not difficult for patients to pick up, which helps to optimize their experience. You and your staff will always need to remain patient with individuals who find technology to be a challenge as to not make their experience any more negative than they might find it. If this still does not work, then you could again consider an over the phone visit.
Problem: Language Gap
Solution: Again, the more resources you can prepare your patients with, the more successful they will be and the better experience they will have. You could provide them with instructional resources in their first language or you could implement a telehealth solution that offers multi-language options. At the end of the day, telehealth is still an amazing tool that is breaking down barriers between communities and mental health care. Therapy is no longer a thing that exists only for those with a wealth of resources, but is on its way to being made accessible to everyone. Providers who find a telehealth solution with built-in security and an easy-to-use interface are on the way to doing just that.