Many mental health experts around the United States agreed the COVID-19 pandemic brought along a mental health pandemic within itself. Whether it be due to isolation, anxiety or depression, many people were reporting new or worsening mental health issues.
Sarthak Arora, operations specialist at ARC Psychiatry in Beachwood, Jeffrey Lox executive director of Bellefaire in Shaker Heights, and Dr. Noah Miller, medical marijuana physician at Compassionate Cleveland in Beachwood, said telehealth is a great tool for their mental health care.
Lox said Bellefaire was able to offer everything from individual and family sessions to group therapy sessions and group prevention parenting classes. Prior to COVID, they already had a small telepsychiatry program that had been running for years.
He mentioned one psychiatrist that had worked at Bellefaire for years prior to moving to Israel. The psychiatrist was able to keep his Ohio license, which allows him to continue to practice in Ohio. Bellefaire had a weekly psychiatry clinic run by that doctor, who was up in the middle of the night in order to care for patients back in Ohio.
“It was stressful for all of us,” Lox said. “Then you add on the fact that people had additional challenges and their need for assistance was just exponentially greater. And in terms of telehealth, like a lot of the fields, Bellefaire had to deliver services quickly and get in front of people in all the ways that were available to us. Telebehavioral health or teletherapy was absolutely one way for us to not only stay connected to our existing clients, but to offer services immediately to new folks who needed our help.”
Miller said there was an immediate uptick in people seeking help. He added that these referrals were from both returning clients and new clients.
“I feel that the telemedicine experience is a very good one for my patients,” Miller said. “Some people feel like there’s not that same quality of being in the same room as somebody. But really, with a video connection, I just feel like I’m actually able to focus more of my attention on my patient. And I feel like there hasn’t been any decline in the quality of those interactions.”
Arora said telehealth helps patients to use their time and physicians’ time. This comes into play especially when a person has multiple errands back-to-back. They can cut down on travel time by having their therapy appointment over the phone or computer.
“The no-show numbers have definitely dropped,” Arora said. “Some of the patients earlier used to cancel their appointment because they thought it would take some time from their day. And since we are a psychiatry practice, there are times when patients are not at their best of their mental health, so they sometimes don’t feel motivated enough to visit. But with the advent of this technology and telemedicine, all of those things have dropped a lot.”
Miller, who also has his own psychiatry practice, said his client base increased after COVID from about 80 patients to about 150. He said that was partly because of increased demand from COVID and the strain and stress that was put on people, but also due to the ease of access.
“What I found was that telehealth helped my current patients to continue their treatment without any interruptions,” Miller said. “And what I think we then saw was that telehealth had improved access for people that were probably already having difficulty accessing mental health care, whether it be from work schedules or transportation issues. I think people found it easier to find my websites, see that I offered telemedicine services, and contact my assistant to get an appointment scheduled. And it maybe felt less daunting or less intimidating to meet someone from the comfort of their home.”
Lox said the biggest upside of telehealth is that you don’t have to drive to an office or sit in a waiting room.
“A virtual platform allowed our therapists and our teachers to keep working with the kids in our care,” Lox said. “So for our existing folks, it was seamless. They saw the therapist in an office one week. The next week, the therapist was on their phone or on their computer. For new clients, we were immediately accessible.”