OR continues to use telehealth to provide mental health and medical services
Ohio University Counseling and Psychology Services, or CPS, and OhioHealth Campus Care, located in Hudson Health Center, continue to use telehealth appointments to avoid possible exposures to COVID-19.
Through the OU’s partnership with OhioHealth, the Campus Care department provides emergency care as well as a primary care clinic.
OU provides $660,000 a year in funds from overhead, tuition, state stipends and other income, said university spokesman Jim Sabin.
OhioHealth is paying for Zoom for Healthcare, a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA-compliant program, used to provide telehealth appointments to UO students, Jane Balbo, physician at family at OhioHealth Campus Care at OU and assistant professor of family medicine at OU Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine, said.
The use of telehealth services by medical and mental health professionals has accelerated during the pandemic, said Randall Longenecker, professor emeritus of family medicine at the OU Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Depending on why a patient is making an appointment with a healthcare professional, the appointment may be offered through Zoom for Healthcare, Balbo said.
David Spielman, an indecisive freshman, had a virtual visit with Campus Care during the fall semester. Spielman said he was unaware that in-person appointments were available.
If a patient thinks they may have COVID-19 or is showing symptoms of COVID-19, they are encouraged to stay home and participate in a telehealth visit. However, the patient still has the option of having an exam in person, Balbo said.
In-person exams are generally the most reliable and efficient way for a doctor to determine a diagnosis, Longenecker said.
“Telehealth is a great tool, but it’s very limited,” Longenecker said. “People think that because they had a telehealth visit, it’s the same thing (as an in-person visit), and it’s not.”
Medical insurance companies can also determine if a telehealth visit is an option for patients. Typically, annual wellness visits must be done in person to be covered by insurance, Balbo said.
“There are certain (cases in which) the insurance requirements mean that the patient must have an in-person visit. For example, it would be your annual adult health exam or your health exam, your Pap test, your birth control prescription,” Balbo said. “It has to do with how insurance is billed for these preventative visits, and medical insurance companies don’t allow providers to do telehealth visits for health visits.”
For students visiting Campus Care, it’s recommended to find out whether or not their health insurance covers telehealth visits, Balbo said.
Balbo, like many other healthcare providers, requires an annual in-person visit for his patients using controlled substances, such as ADHD medications and testosterone.
“I can always bring people into the office. That’s my judgment as a provider…but I require my patients to have at least one in-person visit per year, just like many other providers,” Balbo said.
Telehealth is also used by the CPS to offer psychiatry services, group therapy sessions, individual therapy sessions, consultations, referrals, crisis intervention, and the adjustment clinic to UO students. , said Paul Castelino, director of the CPS. However, in-person sessions may be requested by the student or suggested by the CPS provider.
“Not all mental health issues are clinically appropriate for telehealth services,” Castelino said in an email. “Telehealth is not appropriate for crisis, acute psychosis, or suicidal or homicidal thoughts.”
Spielman said he used CPS services through telehealth. He found clear pros and cons to virtual forms of therapy sessions.
“In terms of individual counseling it was absolutely fine, but once I did the coping clinic, which was on Zoom, and it was really hard to hear, and it was very disconnected,” Spielman said.
Finding confidential spaces to talk to a CPS provider was also difficult to find, Spielman said.
“One time my roommate was sleeping and I had nowhere to go, so I was scrambling,” Spielman said. “I ended up going for a walk somewhere far away and sitting outside.”
Despite its challenges, telehealth, in general, helps make health care more accessible, Longenecker said.
“I think it’s a necessary resource,” he said.