How the COVID Pandemic is Transforming Behavioral Healthcare Now and Into the Future


I recently read the eBook “Healthcare’s New Normal: Transforming How You Connect with Patients During COVID-19 and Beyond”, and while it focused more on the medical community and health services, I believe it has value for the behavioral health field as well. The book identified three distinct phases brought about by the COVID pandemic that are transforming healthcare: reacting, reopening, and ultimately recovering. I believe each of these three phases needs to be considered as we adapt our behavioral health services and secure telehealth options for our clients going forward!

REACT:

I believe that the react phase began with the mandatory request to shelter in place that created a traumatized state for both practitioners and clients. During this time we were trying to grasp the magnitude of this new COVID-19, trying to metabolize the fears associated with the unknown about a new virus, and adjust to the disruption to life as we knew it pre-COVID. The disruption had a wide reach and included financial challenges, decreased social interactions, scarcity in the supply of necessities, pivoting to working and schooling from home, and many more changes and loses … some just perceived, but some very real!

During this stage practitioners and facilities were forced to use technology to provide distance services to stay connected with those in need. For many in the field this delivery method was new and at times overwhelming just to find and access the appropriate technology. Even once a technology was identified, the practitioners still had to master new skills and educate their traumatized clients on how to connect via technology for mental health services. Despite the challenges, most professionals managed their own personal response to COVID-19 and persevered because of their dedication to their clients and the community’s mental health needs during an extreme traumatic event.

During this phase, this new reliance on technology has led to notable progress with new systems for faster dissemination of healthcare information, improved scheduling platforms, better online billing, and increased access to secure virtual sessions all making it easier for clients to connect with their healthcare provider while remaining safely at home. No travel time and flexibility of scheduling is seen as a definite benefit. On the other hand, despite the available technology, some still prefer in-office care, so only being able to safely connect from home during this phase for some was a traumatic experience.

REOPEN:

We have entered the reopen phase which is creating some very traumatic and stressful emotional issues and dilemmas for the practitioner and the client. The black and white scenario of shelter in place was not ideal, but it did provide a sense of structure and for some security …  an “If I stay home, I will be safe” attitude existed. Re-opening is creating discomfort for many depending on their belief and choices around protecting themselves and their loved ones from COVID versus the very real need for socialization and some “normalization” of activities including working, school for kids, physical activities, seeing friends and family, etc.

Mental health professionals face many of the same concerns in their quest to keep themselves, their families, and their clients safe. There are also challenges to re-opening onsite practices/facilities safely. In my circles, it appears that some are now providing a mixture of telehealth and onsite with a select few clients while others are remaining fully virtual. It is too early to tell how maintaining a full-time virtual practice will affect the bottom line of revenue. Virtual sessions have not been easy for many that are “differently abled” with technology (i.e. the older client). So, it is likely that some clients will request in office sessions and if it’s not available, may decide to move to another practitioner that is providing this option, while others will continue to embrace the virtual format.

RECOVERY:

This phase is still unknown until the COVID-19 pandemic is in our rearview mirror. However, I believe that this is the stage of acceptance to a new world that will be a blending of supportive and viable trends from pre-pandemic times with the integration and acceptance of new modalities for mental and physical healthcare.

Technology companies are now completely on board developing new tools to help monitor and provide access to quality healthcare. I support the trend for value-based care that includes the client’s voice with what venues are working for them for a positive experience and outcome. My one concern is that some technology tools may be developed without human regard … just because they can does not mean they should. In my opinion, technology is simply a tool to support easy access to education, identification, treatment, and recovery of our mental and physical health issues, but it should not be the end game.

This Recovery phase will also be a time to reflect and grieve the losses experienced during the pandemic that are too numerous to mention. Virtual technology provides a useful tool to not only keep us connected now in the midst of the pandemic, but it will likely continue to play a big role in helping us to remain connected and to support each other as we move past the current crisis. VTConnect is proud to be one of the ethical, secure, virtual telehealth platforms that has been providing virtual support for over a decade. We chose to be part of the solution and plan to continue to adapt and grow our telehealth solution to best meet the needs of practitioners and clients now and in the future.

- Martha H. Ireland, Ireland PhD, RN, CS, BC-TMH

References

eBook: Healthcare’s New Normal: Transforming How You Connect with Patients During COVID-19 and Beyond. (2020, September 20). Retrieved from Health IT Analytics: https://healthitanalytics.com/resources/white-papers/ebook-healthcares-new-normal-transforming-how-you-connect-with-patients-during-covid-19-and-beyond