Telehealth Legislation Needed to Support Growing Demand for Behavioral Healthcare


Due to expanded health insurance coverage, reduced stigma, and better awareness, more and more Americans are seeking mental health services. However, the number of psychiatrists available to provide these services has not grown significantly. This growth in demand, without a corresponding growth in supply, has negatively impacted healthcare access to psychiatric care, especially in rural areas. Telehealth can help address this need. 
Telehealth is a valuable tool that allows patients to access psychiatric services, even when there are no local providers available at the time of need, by remotely connecting patients and doctors to one another. A recent article Telepsychiatry Opens a New Window into Behavioral Healthcare outlined relevant statistics showing the severity of this problem and the important role telehealth can play in addressing this issue. 
However, in order for telehealth to be even more effective, we need further legislation in support of this effort. There is a need for compact licensing across all states, such that providers can see patients across state lines without going through separate licensing process in each state. All insurance providers should cover telehealth services and provide resources for patients to find and access these providers. Additionally, the originating site for billable telehealth services should not be limited to approved sites, such as healthcare facilities - patient homes should always be included. Some of these solutions are in place in some states, but we need change on a national level. 
Telehealth is available as a means to provide mental health services to those in need - we should be facilitating this effort and removing the barriers currently in place.
Helen Nichols, MSW
PhD Candidate
University of Maryland School of Social Work