Healthcare is a constantly advancing field with new technologies and techniques being implemented almost nonstop. Today I’d like to discuss one such new technology and its potential for solving a major problem we face here in Idaho. What is this technology? It’s called telehealth and has actually been around and growing for about a decade or so. Like the name implies, the focus is on providing health care from a distance. First gaining popularity in largely rural countries like Australia and Greenland it is beginning to pick up in the United States.
Telehealth covers a multitude of health care needs and ranges from something as simple as talking with a doctor over the phone or text to something as complicated as specialists working hand in hand with local nurses and general practitioners to provide cancer care to residents in rural communities hundreds of miles a day. This isn’t something limited to physical health however, mental health benefits from telehealth. Therapists, psychiatrists, and even med managers can utilize telehealth to provide services otherwise unavailable to people in need. Videoconferencing has already been utilized by several organizations to complete this very goal.
But why Idaho? Idaho is an exceedingly rural state. With the exception of Ada and Latah county, most of Idaho is made up of small towns with only a few thousand (or fewer) residents. This creates a number of issues in providing mental health services to those in need. Oftentimes people are unable to travel 2-5 hours each way to see a therapist. Additionally, finding a therapist that’s a good fit is important to any therapeutic relationship. If someone doesn’t get along with the one counselor who lives within 2 hours of them, it’s unlikely they’ll receive the help they need. Finally, mental health oftentimes is accompanied by negative stigma. In small towns where “everybody knows everybody” is a common sentiment, seeking mental health services might be something individuals will refuse to avoid being labeled as “crazy” from their neighbors. Telehealth can assist with all of these issues. By providing telehealth services, companies can see individuals it would otherwise be impossible to visit on a regular basis. Clients can meet in local facilities such as churches or schools for regular visits, or even in the safety of their own home. This can increase privacy and comfort that might otherwise be lacking.