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Sunday, November 20, 2022

Telehealth is here to stay. Psychologists should equip themselves to offer it.

Hannah Calkins
The Monitor On Psychology
Vol. 53 No. 7, Print version: page 30

Telehealth continues to play a significant role in the health care industry. However, psychologists who offer both in-person and virtual services are poised to meet increased demand for flexible, accessible mental health care.

In 2020, psychologists responded to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic by making a nearly universal pivot to telehealth. This rapid and widespread adoption was largely enabled by the federal government’s declaration of a public health emergency (PHE), which prompted several significant policy changes that made telehealth more feasible for both patients and providers.

Yet in the following year, an APA survey found that 50% of psychologists had moved to offering both in-person and virtual services to their patients, up from 30% in 2020. Additionally, Pew Research Center data showed that 25% of adults with ­low incomes do not own smartphones, and 40% of this group do not have broadband internet or computers at home, signaling significant concerns about telehealth equity.

This means that psychologists should prepare for a hybrid future in which they deliver services via both modalities.

“Telehealth is here to stay. In-person isn’t going away,” said Robin McLeod, PhD, a licensed psychologist and president and chief business development officer at Natalis Psychology in St. Paul, Minnesota. “I believe it is vital for most psychologists to be able and willing to provide both options for patients. It just makes good business sense.”

Meeting demand for telehealth

Like many other providers, those at McLeod’s large practice made a quick pivot to virtual care during the pandemic and now offer hybrid options.

“[Our] providers have returned to providing in-person care, which many of our patients welcomed,” said McLeod. “However, most every provider in our organization continues to provide telehealth services for those clients who prefer that.”

Similarly, Zixuan Wang, PsyD, of Encounter Psychotherapy in Gaithersburg, Maryland, also has a robust hybrid practice. However, prior to spring 2020, she had never seriously considered offering telehealth.

“I am so appreciative that technology has enabled us to provide telehealth services, as they have been proven to be effective and beneficial for so many people who need care,” she said.

Wang and McLeod’s stories are scaled-down versions of the broader narrative of telehealth during the pandemic: Rapid and sustained implementation out of necessity has led to a permanent change.