In the continued growth of online therapy and counseling, there is an App for that as well. In the article below, we get an accounting of how the counseling would look and the financial challenges of providing online as opposed to face to face therapy. One interesting point to recognize is that the spiritual care crowd is not involved in this endeavor yet, even though I believe that there is a place for spiritual support even in an online context. This is something that I have presented and am continuing to explore from at least a theoretical level.
A parade of companies are jumping into the business of online therapy, bringing live face-to-face behavioral health treatment to patients that have better access to video conferencing technology and more accepting insurance policies.
Though telemedicine has been around for years to connect patients in rural and other areas with little access to medical care, technology has not always been reliable enough for behavioral health.
But more new computers are enabled with web cameras and better bandwidth while health insurance companies including UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Humana Inc. (HUM) and certain Blue Cross plans are becoming more open to paying for online therapy.
The latest to enter the online behavioral health space is eTherapi; a Redwood City, Calif.-based company founded by a group of entrepreneurs with Stanford University business and behavioral health pedigrees.
“Two years ago or even three years ago, in terms of technology, we were not there,” said eTherapi chief executive and co-founder Dr. Farzad Soleimani.
“Most Internet connections are good enough to have a fluid conversation,” he added. “You are only as good as your patient’s willingness to listen and engage with you in improving their health outcome. The benefit of the Internet is that the interactions are easier and you can have more frequent interactions with the doctor.”
“In three years, this will take off like a rocket,” Eric A. Harris, an attorney and psychologist who consults with the American Psychological Association Insurance Trust told the New York Times last September. “Everyone will have real-time audiovisual availability.”
Harris’ prediction is looking good. eTherapi said it has more than 200 mental health professionals in more than 30 states lined up to offer its therapy sessions and expects to at least double the size of its provider network.
Insurance companies are not completely sold on the concept, which can cost $100 to $150 a session depending on the therapist. The online companies generally get a cut of what the therapist charges.
Health insurance giant UnitedHealth, for example, said in a statement that its United Behavioral Health unit “covers telepsychiatry when it’s clinically appropriate and in compliance with state and federal regulations.”
Health Care Service Corp., parent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in Illinois, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma said it covers telemedicine in rural areas like New Mexico where access to medical care services is a problem for patients. When it comes to online therapy, however, the Blues plans are “monitoring and assessing the viability of that model.”
Online therapy companies say their connections are secure and compliant with federal privacy rules.
“This is about efficiency,” Dr. Soleimani said. “Because so much stigma is associated with going to a therapist, they are taking solace in online interactions because they know it is private.”
A potential downside is that the online market still tends to cater to consumers who would be better off financially, having the latest technology on their laptops, mobile phones and tablets. Patients also need to be leery of the credentials of the mental health professionals they encounter, particularly online.
But eTherapi executives say their mental health providers are licensed and patients have the ability to get to know them online through profiles as well as videos of the providers to “get a sense of their mannerisms,” Soleimani said.
“Patients don’t have adequate information to see who is who,” Soleimani said. “We take the time to make sure they are qualified and licensed providers.”