Rural communities are developing innovative solutions to the mental health workforce shortage. Telehealth, or telemedicine, has reached the forefront of these discussions and is helping fill in the workforce shortage gaps. The Center for Connected Health Policy explains that the definition of telehealth varies across states. In the context of mental healthcare provision, telehealth can sometimes be referred to as telehealth, telemental health, telepsychiatry, telepractice, or telepsychology.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration defines telehealth as:
“the use of electronic information and telecommunication technologies to support and promote long-distance clinical healthcare, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. Technologies include video conferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”
Telehealth is important because this technology:
- Increases access to mental healthcare in rural communities
- Provides services to people with disabilities who may not be able to leave their home
- Allows mental health providers to have intermediate check-ins with patients
Some problems that may arise when delivering telehealth services include:
- The ability for a provider to offer telehealth services to a patient outside of the state
- Whether or not a provider is reimbursed for providing telehealth services
- Potential privacy risks that could result from online therapy
- Access to broadband
Telehealth is especially useful in rural areas because it provides a means for mental health professionals to reach more patients through technology. This combats the mental health workforce shortage problem by providing patients with access to treatment. With telehealth, primary care providers can have quick and easy access to a mental health provider to whom they can refer patients on-the-spot.
For more on this topic, refer to the RHIhub's Telehealth Use in Rural Healthcare Topic Guide.
Resources to Learn More
Center for Connected Health Policy
One of 14 Telehealth Resource Centers that informs individuals and communities about state and national telehealth policy.
Organizations(s): Public Health Institute
A New Emphasis on Telehealth
Provides a brief overview of telehealth, its various definitions, and the strengths and weaknesses of incorporating telehealth programs into mental health treatment.
Author(s): Novotney, A.
Organization(s): American Psychological Association
Citation: Monitor on Psychology, 42(6), 40
Telehealth Resource Centers
Provides virtually free technical assistance to organizations looking to implement telehealth services.