It’s 10 a.m., Monday morning, and Jordan is on the iPad. Jordan’s not checking Instagram, but rather securely logging in with his school nurse and parent to discuss the past week with a licensed behavioral health specialist.
That’s how simple telemedicine is making access to mental health care for individuals in remote locations.
Telemedicine — secure real-time videoconferencing — empowers children and families by extending access to the latest behavioral treatments for individuals who otherwise would not be able to receive care.
By age 18, one in five American children will have a diagnosable mental health condition and millions more will face difficult times where they would benefit from support and early intervention.
With 100 of 105 Kansas counties designated as mental health professional shortage areas, only a handful of these children receive evidence-based treatment. Given the high need and the many barriers (e.g., cost, availability, stigma) to treatment, it is clear that new ways to connect are important, as are statewide efforts to increase the behavioral health workforce.
With appropriate technology, training and preparation, a telemedicine visit is no different from a face-to-face visit. Of course, all best practices should be followed in creating a child-friendly environment, using secure videoconferencing options. Kids are quick to develop rapport over televideo, with some teens especially liking the perceived control offered over televideo. Many have video-conferenced with friends and relatives and adapt quickly to conversing on screen.
Telemedicine bridges the gap in access to care and connects children in rural and urban communities with behavioral health specialists in child psychiatry, child psychology, developmental medicine, behavioral medicine, and other specialties. National telemental health guidelines, driven by research and expert consensus, increasingly support satisfaction with telemedicine and effectiveness across behavioral conditions, with child-specific national guidelines on the horizon.
The University of Kansas Center for Telemedicine (KUCTT) and collaborating faculty at the University of Kansas Medical Center have provided behavioral health services over video-conferencing for more than 20 years. They partner with community champions across the state to extend the range of behavioral expertise over videoconferencing.
Newer telemedicine clinics link teams of specialists with children and young adults to address concerns such as pediatric obesity, depression, feeding disorders, encopresis and substance abuse. Support groups are also being evaluated over telemedicine, ranging from psycho-educational groups for children with mood disorders to support groups focused on helping individuals with life-limiting conditions connect with one another and share coping strategies.
Other telemedicine programs in the state use video-conferencing to extend behavioral services to vulnerable populations, including children in foster care and families served through community health centers. While behavioral services over telemedicine are not yet reimbursed to the home setting, researchers are developing innovative, ethical approaches to provide virtual “house calls” in the near future.
Telemedicine and emerging technologies point to a bright future, with the hope to intervene with our best treatments early and help children thrive.