Telehealth as a “New Normal”

Telemedicine for Mental Health

It’s difficult to say what the world will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic winds down. Regardless of when, I believe that a lot of things will have changed, and many for the better. One thing that was slowly growing before and is now a part of our “new normal” is telehealth. During the pandemic, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that health care providers offer their services remotely to better aid in client accessibility and mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Thus, I want to find out what kind of benefits we might see from this “new normal” and how it could help society reach more positive outcomes for the future of eating disorder treatment.

At Eating Disorder Solutions, we have been offering a weekly virtual support group called “Dine In” with our Registered Dietitians. Since beginning the group in March, we have found that it has given people a place to get help for their eating disorders that would never have reached out for help before. Some of these individuals were either not ready for the full commitment of treatment, and some are located in places so remote that there are no available options nearby. This is why the first benefit of telehealth for the future of eating disorder treatment is accessibility. Whether you are someone with limited time, limited access due to your physical location, or limited access due to physical disabilities, telehealth is something that can completely change your world.  

Another major benefit clients are noticing with the use of telehealth is efficiency. Currently, we have a lot more time on our hands, but what will happen when we all have to go back to work? I don’t know about you, but I am not looking forward to the stress of sitting in traffic on long commutes. So, will we go back to prioritizing our financial futures above our health because of convenience? With telehealth there is more opportunity to be efficient when investing in our mental health because we don’t have to make excuses for the lack of time or added stress of appointments. Also, there is sometimes more flexibility in the times available to meet with mental healthcare providers as there is less competition in their schedule because they don’t have to meet at a physical location. For those of us that are overworked, it’s nice to not have to worry about finding time in our busy schedules to take off for a therapy session. 

Lastly, the benefit of privacy is something that we don’t come across very often in eating disorder treatment but could be valuable to those afraid of committing to treatment due to concerns about maintaining their privacy. Of course, it is a given that mental healthcare providers maintain confidentiality with client information. However, it is difficult to manage all aspects of privacy when it comes to clients seeing other clients. For example, if clients are waiting to see their clinician in the waiting room where other clients are waiting, this may be a deterrent for in-person treatment for some very private individuals. As well, group therapy is a big part of our Intensive Outpatient Program and requires that personal information be shared in front of other clients for the full experience. This may be something that is easier with the benefit of the computer screen providing some level of anonymity. 

Some things to consider with the future of our “new normal”:

  • Currently, the new normal allows mental healthcare providers to offer telehealth services to anyone, regardless of the state they live in. When things do begin to change, the rules that regulate their professional services within their specific states will go back to the way they were before. Therefore, teletherapy services will only be provided to clients in the same state as the licensed professional in the future. 
  • The value of telehealth is no less than in-person therapy. Mental healthcare providers may be currently offering free or discounted rates for access to their services because we are all struggling through these tough times. That’s not to say this is something that we should expect to be the case forever. Mental healthcare providers are no less effective or valued via teletherapy than they are in-person.
  • The “new normal” isn’t for everyone because change is hard. Our Residential and Partial Hospitalization Programs have remained constant because they provide services that require stability in a physical setting. This has been vital for those suffering from heightened anxiety and acute eating disorder behaviors throughout the pandemic. Just because the world has changed, doesn’t mean you are expected to change with it. It’s important to get the right kind of help for your eating disorder needs. At Eating Disorder Solutions we will conduct a thorough assessment prior to admission to ensure you are receiving an appropriate level of care that will best help your eating disorder recovery.