Rural America is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Tech could help some patients see a way forward. (cover story PDF)
Too many Americans don’t have access to sufficient mental health support, but innovative partnerships are helping bridge the gap for some patients.
This download provides the magazine version of the article as a free PDF for registered TechRepublic and ZDNet members. The long-form article version of this telehealth story is also available.
From the story:
When psychiatrist Dr. Jon Martin sat down to speak with his patient, he could tell she was distressed. Taking a slew of prescribed medications, the only certainty this patient had was that she felt as if she was falling apart.
Living in a rural area, Martin’s patient did not have local access to any mental healthcare professionals, leaving her to rely on general health providers for mental health issues. However, with access to a computer, this changed.
Sitting in front of a webcam in her local health clinic, Martin’s patient cried while describing her feelings of anxiety and depression. She explained that she never identified with the symptoms or signs of the condition she’d been told she had, and even felt worse on her medications. On the screen was Martin, who sat in his office at Baptist Health Corbin in Kentucky, explaining to her that her sentiments were both valid and understandable–because she had been misdiagnosed, and the medications she was prescribed contributed further to her distress.
“She was on four or five psychotropic medications. I started reducing them one by one because she was still complaining of a significant amount of depression, anxiety, despite being on these medicines,” he says.
“It was like we got to start fresh. Now she’s in a much better place. She isn’t having as much depression, anxiety. She feels mentally better. She feels physically better,” Martin said. “She is happier that she’s not on all these medications. She feels good that diagnosis was taken off because she never truly identified with it.”
Martin was able to start this process after 15 minutes on a Zoom call—a medium that provides care to these rural patients without the stigma or traveling costs of finding an in-person healthcare provider.
After beginning his telehealth career as a resident in the University of Kentucky’s telepsychiatry program, Martin believed in the power of telehealth so much that he carried it into his career at Baptist Health Corbin.
The past five years saw an influx of telecommunication use for other healthcare initiatives. The most common telehealth use cases, according to the American Hospital Association, include pharmacy services, chronic care management, telestroke services, tele-ICU tools, and telemedicine consults.
Looking ahead, doctors often point to mental health as the next step for telehealth, but aren’t exploring it to the same extent as physical health, even though these kinds of options could be the answer to a widespread call for help with mental healthcare, providing a convenient, affordable option for rural Americans who might not otherwise receive treatment.
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