Telehealth is Here to Stay, and in a Good Way
Originally posted by Georgia Witkin Ph.D. at Psychology Today as “Telehealth is Here to Stay, and in a Good Way”
Just imagine how relaxed you would feel speaking to a therapist or physician from your couch at home.
Now imagine how much more personal and less rushed the meeting would be if you didn’t have to travel to the doctor’s office, be checked in, wait until your name was announced, follow a nurse into a formal office filled with certificates and credentials, and wait until someone in a white coat showed up.
A world where you can get the care you need without the hustle and bustle of a physical appointment sounds like a pretty good one for patients. Enter telehealth—a method that’s being used more during the pandemic as patients and doctors try their best to stay connected.
Telehealth is good for doctors, too, according to Alan Copperman, Medical Director of RMA of New York, Vice-Chairman of the Department of Ob/Gyn and Reproductive Science at Mount Sinai Medical Center and Medical Director of Progyny. “I find myself becoming a different doctor. I’m paying attention to different cues on the phone than I would in the office,” he says.
He says his patients are different, too. “I find my patients are less intimidated, so we have more of a conversation than a consultation. The interaction is more authentic and natural now. In fact, I‘m laughing more with the patients because we feel like we are in this together. For all the bad this crisis has done, it has also, in many ways, been an equalizer.”
I’m finding in my practice, telehealth can have special benefits for both fertility patients and therapy clients. It enhances their sense of control at a time when that sense is challenged by world events and personal anxiety and loss.
Telehealth and Virtual Therapy
Therapy patients, for example, have more scheduling flexibility through online therapy . During shelter in place and self-quarantine, patients can get the care they need without leaving home. When things return to normalcy, they can continue their counseling via telehealth during a lunch break in a secluded conference room or on the couch after a hard day’s work.
Control is further boosted given the different options and methods doctors are able to give their patients. For example, they can pick how they want to communicate, whether it’s a video conference or a phone call, if a partner or spouse should join for an enhanced session, and the ability to choose from more time slots since appointments no longer need to coincide with typical office hours.
Telehealth and Fertility
A fertility patient’s sense of control is always challenged because they’re always waiting for something—test results, for an embryo to develop or eggs to mature, the two-week wait, and the nine months to pregnancy. Now during COVID-19, add in extra waiting time as many are forced to pause their fertility treatments. So, what can they do instead? Cooperman points out that many can turn to telehealth and it’s a catalyst to help move patients forward so they can be ready to resume treatment as soon as safety allows.
Even as clinics are beginning to open their doors, many patients may prefer the digital option. Telehealth makes it easier to consume information with many resources to fill the wait time with online classes, conversations with nurses, orientations, and psychological support.
In-Person Appointments and Interaction
So, what about the value of face-to-face time during emotionally supportive appointments, such as therapy? A little-known fact is that the most important part of a session is for the patient to hear themselves learn about themselves—not hear the therapist weighing in.
If the problem is about pandemic anxiety, or strained relationships after weeks of sheltering at home, a good therapist will ask questions which will help patients find their own answers. And since a therapist’s most valuable comments are the only which patients later repeat to themselves, telehealth sessions can work as well, if not better.
Is Telehealth Here to Stay?
If you are wondering if virtual counseling will fade with the pandemic, the answer is “unlikely!” FAIR Health, a nonprofit organization using a database of 25 billion privately billed claim records, found telehealth usage has increased many hundred times over the past ten years and now even more in urban areas than rural areas. Initially, telehealth growth was overwhelmingly mental health services because the demand outpaced the available qualified therapists, but the COVID-19 experience has broadened the use of virtual counseling in all fields, especially reproductive medicine.
Copperman also believes it is here to stay. “This telehealth experience has been transformative in the field of fertility treatment. We have learned how to incorporate digital technology to deliver better patient care For some doctors, the transition from white coat to home couch will be a natural transition, for others it will be heavy lifting, but regardless, patients will benefit,” he says.
I find that telehealth patients say that it makes them feel more like consumers than victims. They can interview doctors and change them more easily without meeting them face to face.
Copperman adds that he finds his telehealth patients say they feel more heard and validated and less intimidated. “Telehealth treatment modalities will help us ‘over-deliver,’ and that’s a noble goal,” he says.
Are My Doctors Continuing With Telehealth?
If you are employed, your company often has resources like those offered by Progyny for your fertility health and mental health, and often they include virtual counseling resources. Check in with your HR team to see what is offered and be sure to also check in with your doctor to see if and how they’re approaching this. If you haven’t already, give it a try and you might be pleasantly surprised.
Though telehealth emerged as a mainstream practice through unfortunate circumstances, the long-lasting changes are positive for both patients and their doctors. As we learn to adjust to a post-pandemic world, know that many of your doctors—including fertility specialists and therapists—are only a video call away.