The COVID-19 outbreak has significantly affected how therapists deliver health services, which had to move from in-person therapy to remote telehealth, researchers report.

For a new study in Community Mental Health Journal, researchers surveyed 238 behavioral health care providers throughout New York—one of the early epicenters of the pandemic in the US—on the challenges they faced regarding providing services remotely, maintaining safety practices in person, and the ability for clients to use technology to receive services, which are often more effectively provided in-person.

“Understanding this impact is particularly important as these services support vulnerable populations that may be at higher risk for coronavirus infection as well as other negative consequences,” says lead author Kenneth Gill, chair of the department of psychiatric rehabilitation and counseling professions at the Rutgers School of Health Professions.

Here, he discusses his findings, including the big stressors for both patients and providers:

Gill: The most significant change was the move away from in-person, face-to-face contacts and the increased reliance on telehealth.

The lack of in-person meetings made intakes, comprehensive assessments, and engagement with clients more difficult. Some clients did not want to engage with staff by phone or video.

Additionally, some clients refused remote services and others failed to answer the phone for scheduled appointments. Lack of in-person services also presented challenges around medication monitoring and administering injectable medications.

The reliance on telehealth has highlighted the digital divide that exists for people with lower socioeconomic resources, those with disabilities, and those who live in rural areas. A big issue was client access to technology and reliable internet services.

The limited availability of technology and the lack of staff skill in using that technology to deliver services are areas begging for research and development.

Read the full article about telehealth therapy by Patti Verbanas at Futurity.