8 minute read

Telehealth for Mental Health: Bridging Gaps in Access to Psychological Care 

Kelsey Zaporowski

Updox Content Writer

The emergence of telehealth technology has added a new and beneficial dimension to psychological healthcare. It has the capability to help overcome speedbumps in treatment for both providers and patients. 

Does your mental health practice struggle with patient retention? Are many of your patients challenged by the accessibility of in-person care? 

Telehealth for mental health may be a viable solution. It can reduce barriers to care and make your practice more efficient. It can even improve revenue. 

Ready to learn more about telehealth for mental health services? We’ll show you some benefits and drawbacks to help you make a more informed decision. 

The Importance of Telehealth for Mental Health Services 

Do you own or manage a mental health practice? You’re probably aware that there has been a global surge in mental health issues

Some of this increase is attributable to our ever-climbing world population. Statistically, the larger the global population, the higher the number of people who need mental health care. 

Another contributing variable is an uptick in mental health awareness. The general public knows more about mental health issues and neurodiversity than they did even 10 years ago. The surrounding stigma has decreased as a result, and people are more open about discussing conditions like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD. 

Factors like the economy, the pandemic, climate change, and sociopolitical stressors are also causing mental conflict for many people and driving them to seek help. 

For many clinics, this surge in patient load has presented a challenge. They are often chronically overwhelmed and understaffed. If a practitioner is unexpectedly out of their office, accommodating emergency appointment requests can be virtually impossible. 

Patients may also struggle with attending in-person therapy sessions. Some mental health conditions present inherent issues with making appointments. Patients with ADHD may experience task paralysis, forget, or show up late. Those with agoraphobia, anxiety, or severe depression may be avoidant and reticent to leave their home. 

Barriers to care have only become more prevalent over the last four years. 

Patients who are at high risk of COVID complications, for example, may not want to risk becoming infected. Some patients and practitioners now suffer from long COVID, which only contributes to fears of reinfection. 

The pandemic caused a rise in cases of depression and anxiety due to isolation, loss of loved ones, and fear of infection. Restrictions caused negative economic and social consequences that affected livelihoods and relationships, contributing to mental health concerns. 

Here are some sobering statistics: 

  • For adults with existing depression or anxiety in 2022, more than one-fifth said they needed counseling or therapy but were not getting it. 

Factor in severe weather, traffic, lack of childcare, and unreliable transportation options—all impacted by economic status—and it’s easy to see why there’s a mental health crisis. 

For practices facing these challenges head-on, telehealth is one burgeoning technology to consider implementing. Telehealth involves using technology to provide care remotely. Appointments can be conducted via phone call or entirely online, typically via a video chat platform. 

Telehealth can be used for: 

  • Individual therapy sessions 
  • Group therapy sessions 
  • Prescribing and monitoring medications 
  • Patient intake and screening 
  • Addiction and substance abuse counseling 
  • Monitoring patient condition 
  • Emergencies and on-call responses 

During the worst part of the pandemic, 13% of outpatient mental health sessions were conducted using telehealth. This provided the impetus for increasing telehealth and improved access to care across the country. 

FROM ONE OF OUR PARTNERS: Grow Your Therapy Business Using Telehealth Therapy Opportunities 

How Telehealth Bridges the Gap in Access to Psychological Help 

During the height of the pandemic, many mental health practices learned how valuable telehealth is. While most people have returned to their pre-pandemic routines at this point, the telehealth option shouldn’t be entirely abandoned. 

Telehealth still applies to the situations we’ve already mentioned, such as avoidance and lack of access. It remains an achievable solution to significantly reduce barriers to psychological care. 

Telehealth can streamline clinic operations and potentially increase revenue. Here are some ways incorporating telehealth can improve your practice and patient care: 

Improving Accessibility 

We mentioned accessibility as a barrier to psychological care. Telehealth makes it easier for patients facing access challenges by eliminating or reducing many of these common roadblocks: 

  • Mental health conditions provoked by going out in public 
  • Forgotten appointments or late arrivals 
  • Lack of access to transportation 
  • Concern about exposure to contagious illnesses 
  • Travel distance from rural areas 
  • Hesitation to travel in extreme weather 
  • Lack of child or family care 

Two other major categories of patients benefit from telehealth: patients with physical disabilities and the elderly. 

These demographics struggled with in-person healthcare appointments long before the pandemic. They may find it physically difficult to attend regular therapy sessions, and in-home caregivers may not offer transportation to outside appointments as part of their services. 

Traveling to a mental health clinic can be a strain on seniors and their caregivers. They may have mobility or incontinence issues that make long travel times challenging. A single appointment turns into an ordeal that can impact an elderly patient for days. 

The same is true for younger people with disabilities, including patients with hidden conditions like fibromyalgia, CE/MFS (chronic fatigue syndrome), and long COVID. 

FROM ONE OF OUR PARTNERS:Online Therapy and Telehealth 

Offering Added Convenience 

Physical limitations present challenges to psychological care, but time constraints can impede patient access as well. 

Imagine a patient scheduled for a 50-minute therapy session who must commute 30 minutes from their workplace to the appointment. Factoring in travel times, they’re losing one hour and 50 minutes of their time, which requires taking time off work rather than using their lunch hour. 

Patients may have limited time off available that they need to reserve for other situations, such as sick kids, vacation, or unexpected complications. They can’t always afford that time. 

Even if the appointment itself isn’t that time-consuming, like a medication review, patients don’t want to spend more time on travel than the length of their appointment. 

Telehealth solves these and similar time constraints by allowing patients to attend online from any location. This is a godsend for anyone with a tight schedule. It increases the likelihood of adherence to scheduled appointments, so your practice doesn’t lose money or efficiency. 

Supporting Patient Engagement 

For optimal patient outcomes in psychological care, patients need to be committed to follow through with their treatment plans. 

If patients are deterred by the effort of overcoming the challenges we’ve discussed, they may give up on pursuing care altogether. Some may discontinue necessary medication use before desired results are achieved, causing relapse. 

Telehealth can counter this disengagement by improving patient experience. It aids in maintaining doctor-patient relationships, allows for more flexibility, and takes patient preferences into account. 

RELATED ARTICLE: Patient Engagement & Its Importance in Healthcare 

Speeding Up Appointments for Providers 

Telehealth can also streamline some aspects of your clinic’s operations. Less time is wasted running between the waiting room and the office, and there are fewer late arrivals to complicate scheduling. 

Providers simply log into a virtual waiting room, and they’re ready to see their next patient. If a patient is late, the provider can use the downtime to work at their desk until they receive an alert that their patient is ready, and the practice keeps running efficiently. 

With online check-ins and direct-to-provider contact, telehealth also reduces the need for full-time reception staff. Their time can be allocated elsewhere for improved productivity. Some clinics have chosen to provide primarily virtual services, with limited in-office days when needed. 

Improving the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of your practice translates to financial savings. The ability to keep appointments running back-to-back may mean you can increase your patient load, leading to higher income. 

Providing Sessions Anywhere, Anytime 

Patients aren’t alone in facing difficulties getting to the clinic. Providers also deal with bad weather, traffic, illness, and family situations. 

Telehealth appointments let clinicians see patients when they might otherwise have to cancel, which goes a long way toward increasing both patient satisfaction and revenue. 

Consider whether your clinic provides on-call services after hours. Telehealth facilitates emergency care. An anxious patient can receive psychological care when they most need it, while the provider can better assess their urgency level. Providers can even converse with patients and other practitioners in the ER. 

Challenges of Telehealth for Mental Health 

Telehealth is not without challenges, but most of these can be addressed with forethought and good planning. Some of the limitations of telehealth include: 

Technological Challenges 

Patients must have reliable internet connectivity and access to a computer or mobile device. 

Senior citizens and the financially strained may feel especially technologically challenged by telehealth. 


Telehealth can be more challenging for those with disabilities such as vision and hearing impairment. Features need to be in place to address these types of accessibility issues. 

Standard of Care 

Some physiological symptoms and vitals cannot be evaluated via telehealth. Also, certain appointments must be held in person by law, such as periodic checks of scheduled substance prescriptions. 

Patient Privacy 

Privacy precautions must be taken on the provider’s end to ensure compliance with patient rights. 

Patients may also feel reluctant to speak online from their home or office if others can hear them. 

Insurance Coverage 

Insurance coverage may or may not include telehealth appointments and can change over time. 

How You Can Start Using Telehealth for Mental Health to Improve Access to Care Right Now 

Implementing telehealth in your mental health practice can be an impactful decision. You’ve seen both sides of offering this additional technology, but ultimately, it comes down to whether it improves patient care. If you’re interested in exploring the option further, here are some steps you can take today to get started. 

Do Some Research. 

Research the need for telehealth services in your unique location. See which patients would benefit most. Who is missing appointments or unable to schedule in the first place due to the barriers outlined here? 

Ask Your Patients. 

Survey patients to uncover any hidden issues with accessibility. Ask what their concerns are about using telehealth. How can you make online appointments easier to use, safer, and more private? 

Assess Your Schedule. 

See where telehealth sessions would work best for your clinic schedule and staffing. For most practices, it’s helpful to group telehealth and in-person appointments in separate time blocks. 

Check Your Budget. 

Decide how to budget for adding telehealth services. Can you compensate for any increased costs by reducing no-shows and scheduling more appointments? Patient retention may also be improved for more long-term gains. 

Integrate your telehealth use with existing infrastructure. This includes on-call services, online appointment scheduling, and payment systems. You can streamline and organize your entire practice for growth and goal achievement, no matter your size. 

RELATED ARTICLE: The Future of Telehealth: Predictions and Trends for the Next Decade 

About the Author

Kelsey Zaporowski

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