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Guest Column: Telehealth key to lowering barriers to mental health access

By Zach Booker

Grand Rapids Business Journal, March 17, 2023

During the COVID-19 pandemic our lives changed. Every industry across the world was forced to evolve to serve its customers and communities. And at a time when health care and access to care was critical, people were stuck in their homes, often unable to access in-person care from doctors and therapists. 

Thanks to American innovation, however, health care organizations were able to pivot to telehealth, offering virtual consultations and prescriptions to meet patients where they were.  

This wasn’t an easy change and it took a patchwork of regulations supported by the nation’s public health emergency (PHE). Now that the PHE has expired and prior regulations to telehealth will be reinstated by the DEA, we owe it to patients to ensure they still are able to access the care without barriers.  

Keeping telehealth more accessible will save lives and ensure those struggling with their mental health or seeking a diagnosis can access the care they need without facing stigma. How do I know? Because like many Americans, I was diagnosed with ADHD as a young child, as was my son.  

Facing roadblocks in access to behavioral health care is a reality I’ve lived alongside my family. I’ve experienced firsthand how a diagnosis can be the first step toward getting answers, support and care needed to live my life to the fullest.  

As a parent, this knowledge also has paved the way for me to be able to best support my child and help him get support so he can thrive. It’s personal for me, and that’s why I’ve made it my mission to help other families access the resources they deserve.  

It’s not just about access to care. It’s about the right kind of access to the right kind of care. That’s where telehealth steps in. Telemedicine is an integrative approach to helping patients access quality care quicker, cheaper and more easily than when we were bound to in-person visits.  

What we thought was a short-term solution was a necessary evolution. More than 60% of rural Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health providers, and 65% of nonmetropolitan counties don’t have psychiatrists. Beyond that, 96 million Americans have had to wait longer than one week for mental health treatments. Some are even waiting five to six weeks; a troubling timeline for someone dealing with ADHD, anxiety, depression, PTSD or other mental illnesses. This is a serious problem — and we’ve found the solution. Now, we need to maintain its accessibility.  

Telehealth helped close the gap in access to care and behavioral health resources while unveiling our nation’s mental health crisis. This wasn’t a surprise to me. I’ve spent five years leading and growing a national mental health telehealth company, and I’ve witnessed firsthand how it has opened new possibilities for patients across the country. At ADHD Online, we’ve seen the gaps in care covered by telehealth.  

That’s why it’s critical that we help patients navigate the DEA’s updated ​​​policy under the Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act, which requires ADHD patients to ​obtain a referral from an in-person provider prior to initiating treatment with a telehealth provider.  

At ADHDO we have put practices in place to make sure we’re able to continue supporting our patients even with the heightened restrictions. However, it won’t be easy, and we’re concerned about the larger impacts of this change. Because of this updated regulation, millions of patients face losing access to their life-saving medications if they aren’t able to meet with a provider in-person.  

In Michigan and across the country, Americans collectively agree that our government needs to improve access to behavioral health services. If we’re going to seriously tackle our nation’s mental health crisis, expanding telehealth services must be a priority for every lawmaker and health care provider.  

While the worst of the COVID-19 public health emergency may be behind us, the mental health crisis in America isn’t going away. To continue making progress, lawmakers and health care providers need to come together, find solutions for patients and eliminateobstacles that prevent Americans from getting the help they need. 

Zach Booker is CEO of ADHD Online, which is headquartered in Grand Rapids. 

Original source: Grand Rapids Business Journal

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