In light of social distancing restrictions, telehealth or telemedicine has become more popular than ever before. Because of shortages in medical staff, the need to expand healthcare, and the increasing adoption of emerging technologies due to COVID-19, the world’s telehealth market is expected to balloon from $38.7 billion in 2020 to a staggering $191.7 billion in 2025.
This is good news for those who depend on telehealth services for talk therapy, speech-language pathology (SLP), and other mental health-related issues.
Through the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), many insurers including Medicare now cover phone or virtual therapy options for the duration of the pandemic. Likewise, talk therapy and mental health therapy providers have started to adopt video conferencing platforms in order to continue treating patients with different mental health issues online. Apart from popular apps like Skype and FaceTime, this includes Healthchat, which provides a HIPAA-compliant telehealth video platform that ensures data privacy.
Apart from those suffering from issues like anxiety and depression, this has also further opened telehealth-driven therapy options to those who are recovering from addiction and substance abuse issues. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has allowed doctors to continue prescription medication-assisted treatment for certain disorders over virtual means. While such cases are typically subject to rigorous regulatory oversight, even the DEA is seeing the value of telehealth therapy. In short, both talk therapy and medication-assisted treatment options are benefiting from the increasing adoption of telehealth.
Speech Language Pathology
SLP is particularly difficult to translate as a telehealth practice, mainly because so much of its effectiveness relies on in-person consultations wherein SLPs can thoroughly observe patients’ different verbal and non-verbal communication cues. Despite this, SLPs have continued to virtually cater to their patients, albeit with some difficulty. Recognizing the value of telehealth-driven SLP, lawmakers have recently introduced the Expanded Telehealth Access Act as a way for virtual SLP to be covered by healthcare insurance services – just like regular therapy. Apart from SLPs, the act wants to extend coverage for virtual physical and occupational therapists as well, at least until the pandemic emergency has been resolved. This bodes well for the many SLPs who, despite hurdles, have found success in continuing their patients’ treatment online.
Telehealth has also been a crucial part of how certain universities have continued training future SLPs. Restricted from their respective practicum placements in healthcare facilities where they can practice treating patients, students taking the online SLP program at Sacred Heart University have had to make do using a program called Simucase. Through a library of virtual avatars exhibiting symptoms related to speech disorders, Simucase allows pathologists-in-training to create viable treatment plans even without in-person access to actual people with speech disorders.
This innovative method has actually been in use for some time by top online universities offering similar programs. Simucase has also been a key part of the curriculum for the online communication sciences and disorders degree at Maryville University, a 100% web-based program that used virtual instructions even before the pandemic. Through this and other innovative technologies, the future of telehealth for SLP looks positive. And if the Expanded Telehealth Access Act pushes through, virtual innovation in the field of SLP will continue to develop.
These are just some of the key developments in telehealth in terms of mental healthcare. Given how these options have made the lives of both patients and healthcare providers easier, we can expect these options to continue developing even long after the pandemic has gone.