A couple of weeks ago, I read with interest a discussion on a Psychology listserv about telephone and other remote consultations. Florida psychologists tend to be pretty conservative about telehealth and Internet psychotherapy; after all, it is difficult to apply the same standards to remote interventions as to face-to-face contacts when psychotherapy is the product.
The same week, I received an email from the Center for Connected Health, a division of Partners HealthCare in Boston. Partners was founded by Brigham and Women’s and Massachusetts General Hospitals in 1995; its purpose is to perform “pioneering research in a wide range of connected health-related areas. Their progress report for 2008 includes articles on a number of their initiatives.
Just what is connected health? It is any healthcare endeavor that involves electronic connection between patients who are the receivers of care and the providers of that care. It can involve remote monitoring of medical variables (e.g. blood pressure, blood sugar) utilizing instrumentation that does the test/measurement and reports it to the provider; it can involve sending reminder text messages and determining the impact of those messages on patient behavior. If you start to think about the possibilities, it can involve an incredible range of services provided to consumers of those services from a distance and utilizing electronic media of some sort as the means of connecting.
A wonderful example in the report demonstrates how patient behavior and healthy lifestyle can be studied using an Internet tool like Second Life. Participants in the study are taught the Relaxation Response in a classroom setting in Second Life (see page 5 of the report mentioned above). The study will measure the effectiveness of teaching this stress reduction technique in virtual reality. Other articles in the report study patient compliance with medical protocols when monitored remotely, another area where the expertise of behavioral health researchers should be invaluable.
As a former media psychologist…host of a TV show that focused on psychological issues, answering phone calls and providing public education…I find the research being done by the Center very exciting. If we are going to find ways to reach people where they live and to reduce the costs of care by increasing compliance and changing patient behavior to live healthier lifestyles, we must begin to study and be prepared to utilize these electronic methodologies.
What do you think about telehealth and mental health services? Should behavioral health providers be learning to provide services remotely? Is it time for all of us to support research and training and developing best practices for provision of services electronically? Could you imagine yourself participating as a recipient of remote healthcare services?
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