Is Telehealth really effective?

written by Tiffany Merchant, MS, NCC, LPC

It started as something half a world away from the United States in December 2019. In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a public health emergency of international concern. As the number of positive tests for COVID-19 grew exponentially in the United States the President of the United States declared a national emergency and Wisconsin Governor, Tony Evers, declared a public health emergency. On March 24, 2020 our definition of “normal” changed severely when Governor Evers enacted a Safer-At-Home order. 

This order has left many places of employment scrambling to understand what is considered “essential” and how they could continue to support their employees and customers. Doctors began cancelling “non-essential” appointments. Schools closed. Parents and guardians were now left questioning what they needed to do to educate their children and teachers began a journey of transforming the way they teach and inventing new ways of teaching. And many citizens were left with the question of how they would access the mental health services they have come to depend on. 

“Is it effective?”

Absolutely! Jonathan G. Perle and Barry Nierenberg completed a literature review (1) that found telehealth to be an effective mode of therapeutic treatment for people who are unable to access face-to-face mental health services. 

“Is it safe and secure?” “Will it be just us?”  

SCCS uses the safe and secure platform of Google Hangout Meet for telehealth ensuring HIPPA is followed even in these changing times.. Providers are diligent in protecting the rights of clients. Providers are alone in their office or home and use headphones if needed in order to ensure that client information is kept confidential.  

“Is it legal?”   

Telehealth is legal in the state of Wisconsin. Under the Emergency Order 16 and 2019 Act 185, mental health providers in the state of Wisconsin are authorized to provide telehealth services so long as the services provided are within the scope of practice of that provider, and the client is in the state of Wisconsin. Telehealth services were legal before COVID-19, however, under the Emergency Order 16 and 2019 Act 185 the provider does not need to be credentialed specifically for telehealth. There is no test to pass or further education required to obtain that credential. 

“What can you do with my elementary aged child on video?”  

SCCS providers that work with children are skilled in finding creative ways to connect with their younger clients. They will use numerous ways to connect including games, coloring, drawing, conversation about interests, and lego blocks.  

“There is no way that we can connect over video! I will feel so awkward!”

This is a common fear of telehealth. However, this fear should not keep you from seeking mental health care. In the times of COVID-19 and social distancing, it can become easier to connect in ways previously more difficult. SCCS providers will gauge the conversation and adjust as needed to find a way to connect with you. We are also continuing to provide counseling at the office in person.

“Will insurance cover it?”

Many insurance companies have shifted to cover telehealth, however it’s important to note, every insurance is different. If you are uncertain if your insurance will cover telehealth for mental health services, call the SCCS office and contact your insurance company to verify benefits. 

While transitions are difficult for many of us, most mental health clinics, including SCCS, have been providing telehealth options since the “Safer at Home” order. Hopefully, the answers above have helped you feel comfortable with the option of telehealth. SCCS providers and support staff are here to answer any other questions that you might have. And, again, we continue to provide services in person at both the Onalaska and Black River Falls locations.

To continue your mental health journey, or if you have discovered that you need someone to talk to and process just how upside down your world has turned in the last 6 weeks, call Stein Counseling at (608)-785-7000. We’re here to help!

(1) Jonathan G. Perle & Barry Nierenberg (2013) How Psychological Telehealth Can Alleviate Society’s Mental Health Burden: A Literature Review, Journal of Technology in Human Services, 31:1, 22-41, DOI: 10.1080/15228835.2012.760332