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More using telemedicine now for behavioral health services

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News File Photo
Dawn Pierce of St. Joseph’s Health Center uses the hospital's telemedicine technology.";

Newly released data shows telemedicine, which is health care treatment provided by phone or secure video chat, is increasingly being used for behavioral health services, such as treating mental health conditions and substance abuse disorders.

According to health insurer Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, about one-third of all the telemedicine visits from its patients in upstate New York last year were used for behavioral health services, up from 25 percent in 2018. Those utilizing this service to treat patients include social workers, psychologists, counselors, and nurse practitioners. It's especially popular with patients 40 and younger, who represent 70 percent of telemedicine users.

Marya Vande-Doyle, director of telemedicine at Excellus, said a lot of people in upstate are embracing telemedicine because of the access it offers as it can be challenging for some to take time off or find the necessary transportation to receive in-person care.

"The ability to communicate with a healthcare provider from their home is a high-driver of satisfaction, to be safe and secure and comfortable in an environment such as their home that is familiar to them," Vande-Doyle said. "The hours that telemedicine is in operation also provides a level of convenience."

Vande-Doyle said changing attitudes about the stigmas of mental health treatment in recent years may also explain why more people are using telemedicine for behavioral health services. As more people seek support, the healthcare field is finding new ways to reach them.

"We are breaking down those stigmas and creating ways for people to say I need help or I need emotional support and they can use technology to seek that care," she said. 

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.