Expanding Telehealth During COVID-19 is the Right Thing to Do

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By Stuart Archer

It seems every day we face new concerns – financial instability, supply shortages, and worries over self-quarantines and social distancing. Living with the threat of COVID-19 can leave even the most mentally and physically fit among us feeling anxious and depressed. For those already dealing with mental health challenges, uncertain times can become overwhelming, creating a sense of helplessness and an urge to withdraw.

That’s why now is the critical time to continue mental health treatment plans and monitor for any new symptoms. I commend the Trump Administration’s actions to expand Medicare telehealth coverage, giving vulnerable seniors creative ways to access care.

The elevated health risks facing older adults and seniors during the coronavirus outbreak are not just physical. While monitoring for symptoms like coughing, respiratory distress or fever is paramount, the effects of social isolation on individuals in nursing homes and long-term living facilities can be just as detrimental. In fact, left untreated, geriatric depression can worsen existing medical conditions and lead to higher rates of death and suicide.

For seniors looking to maintain or newly access behavioral health treatment, the Administration’s action goes a long way in closing critical coverage gaps.

For example, a resident in a nursing home who previously was unable to keep a routine, monthly psychiatrist appointment due to concerns over possible coronavirus exposure can now access her care provider via video conference. With help from nursing home care providers, and a slight adjustment in care delivery, there will be no treatment interruptions.

Expanding telehealth coverage also addresses the constant struggle to provide care to individuals in more rural parts of the country. Under pressure to limit person-to-person contact, these previously secluded individuals are now completely isolated and miles from any health care provider.  

I am hopeful that through this expansion we all recognize that telehealth deserves greater emphasis and expansion — outside the pressures of a nationwide viral outbreak. As health care providers, we are called to change the way we provide care and deliver solutions that address a fractured system. We owe it to our patients, their families and the thousands of dedicated health care workers to figure this out.

Stuart Archer is CEO of Oceans Healthcare, one of the nation’s largest providers of behavioral health treatment to older adults and seniors. He is an at-large board member of the National Association of Behavioral Healthcare.

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