The Behavioral Health Industry Must Prepare for an Influx of Patients Following COVID-19
The state of behavioral health and mental health services is changing, as we see a growing demand for help while the physical locations where treatment is normally made available are severely limited to avoid spreading the disease to healthy patients.
Patients are naturally fearful of catching COVID-19 from other patients who may be unaware that they are carrying the virus because they are asymptomatic.
But for mental and behavioral health patients already experiencing anxiety, the prospect of them or their friends and family becoming infected only leads to more mental health stress. Providers are leery of in-person encounters as well, for the same reasons, especially given the fact that testing resources are scarce, as are face masks and other personal protection equipment.
For perspective, consider that “After the SARS outbreak in 2003, both healthcare workers and people who were self-quarantined exhibited symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” according to a report from CNBC.
It went on to note that, “The COVID-19 pandemic could have a similar effect, according to experts. Even if you aren't clinically diagnosed with PTSD, you may have a strong emotional reaction to the trauma of COVID-19 that can last long after an incident.”
The behavioral health / mental health industry is already seeing a major spike because of COVID-19 limiting people’s ability to see therapists or groups. As a result, the behavioral health industry is changing because of COVID-19, and professionals will need to make adjustments to better serve their patients.
Here are tips and strategies on how the behavioral health industry can best prepare itself for this new challenge.
Implement Telehealth and Telemedicine Services
You can still treat patients during the COVID-19 epidemic, without seeing them in person. And more patients than ever are clamoring for service. As the Washington Post reported, “Online therapy company Talkspace reported a 65 percent jump in clients since mid-February. Text messages and transcribed therapy sessions collected anonymously by the company show coronavirus-related anxiety dominating patients’ concerns.”
Help your patients to transition to telehealth so they can begin or continue treatment with their mental health professionals online. The cameras and microphones built into their smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer are sufficient for having an online encounter.
For patients stuck at home, sheltering in place or actually quarantining themselves, being able to continue with therapy from the safety of home will be of utmost benefit.
Provide Recorded Webinars and Live Online Events for Patients
People who are interested in improving their health and learning more about how their bodies work can make for better patients because they are more invested in treatment methods and outcomes.
Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you have to limit gatherings, which means that in-person seminars and other events will be out of the question for the foreseeable future. Instead, you can meet patients’ needs for more information by establishing webinars and live, online events for them to attend using their computer or smartphone.
Make sure that you train your moderators about taking questions from participants in an orderly fashion (don’t let everyone be able to speak at once and interrupt one another, for example).
They will also need to be familiar with security options to prevent unwanted or unauthorized people from entering an online webinar (during the initial period of the pandemic, many organizations new to using Zoom videoconferencing, for example, found that unsecured meetings led to strangers invading and “Zoom bombing” with inane and crude interruptions.)
Take Advantage of DEA Lifting Restrictions on e-prescribing Controlled Substances
A major complication for mental and behavioral health patients is obtaining a prescription for medications used for their opioid use disorder. A report from Roll Call points out that the 2008 Ryan Haight Act requires health care providers to conduct an in-person examination before being allowed to prescribe a controlled substance to a patient.
But in March of 2020, the Drug Enforcement Administration has lifted this in-person requirement temporarily during the COVID-19 epidemic, so you can do your examination through your telehealth system.
Beef Up Security for Online Activities
If you are new to using telehealth or telemedicine services, now would be a good idea to review your current security setup for your computer network. The telehealth software that you implement should include robust protections for patient privacy.
Your current IT team will need to verify you are meeting current standards for online data, so that you can prevent sensitive patient information from being stolen by cybercriminals.
If you are using a cloud-based solution for telemedicine and patient records, the IT department of the cloud provider will be in charge of shoring up security. Still, do not allow your team to grow complacent about computer credentials and login data. Have them change passwords more frequently and use more complicated passwords (relying on a password built from the initial letters of a phrase is an example of an even better method than an easily guessable word found in the dictionary, for example).
Essentially, you do not want your zeal to set up online services for patients as soon as possible to lead you to gloss over vital security protocols.
Prepare your mental health practice
Chances are that you and fellow stakeholders in your behavioral health organization are reviewing your financial situation, given the disruptions caused by the global pandemic. Many entities are finding it beneficial to implement telehealth and telemedicine services for greater flexibility in treating patients. Establishing a schedule of webinars and live events for patients is another excellent way to prepare for the coming influx of patients seeking help during this crisis.
To get started with Telemedicine services at your medical practice, check out this free video showcasing telemedicine in action.
About Christina Rosario
Christina Rosario is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Advanced Data Systems Corporation, a leading provider of healthcare IT solutions for medical practices and billing companies. When she's not helping ADS clients boost productivity and profitability, she can be found browsing travel websites, shopping in NYC, and spending time with her family.