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Keep Up: Aligning Policies and Practices to Optimize Telemental Health Potential

Cullo, Angelica Frances

Currently, the United States health care system is undergoing a transformation in health care delivery. Innovative strategies are needed to increase access to evidence-based mental health care and make progress on the goals of the health care “triple aim” of reducing per capita costs, improving health outcomes, and increasing patient satisfaction (Berwick, 2008 p. 760; McWilliams, 2016). Barriers including a shortage of mental health providers, lack of delivery infrastructure, state licensing limitations, and inconsistent insurance coverage must be addressed before telemental health can become viable. By 2025, social workers are anticipated to experience one of the largest shortages of the mental health provider types (Health Resources & Services Administration, 2016). Telehealth services have the potential to improve mental health care access, efficiency, and outcomes by reaching people who don’t seek treatment because of distance, cost of transportation, stigma, or disability, and by sharing clinical expertise and medical documentation to more people in less time. With decreasing costs and increasing acceptability by payers, providers, and patients, telehealth is more viable than ever before. Social workers are particularly well positioned to make use of telehealth opportunities because their training prepares them to work with individuals marginalized by issues such as stigma, disability, and socioeconomic status. To begin to address this gap in mental health care access, states should pass full parity laws for insurance coverage of telemedicine services so that social workers can provide care to clients regardless of where they are located.

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Columbia Social Work Review

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Social Work
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February 20, 2019
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