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In today’s busy, on-demand world, more employers are offering online or telemedicine services to employees to give them the ability to speak with a psychiatrist or nurse practitioner remotely. Telemedicine is not only convenient for employees who don’t have to take time off work for an appointment, but also helps employers reduce the cost of hospitalizations. While two-thirds of employers currently offer employees access to telemedicine services, that number is expected to increase to 90 percent by 2018.

One popular form of telemedicine is telepsychiatry, a clinical model that uses videoconferencing to provide psychiatry and mental health services, such as evaluations, consultations and ongoing treatment. It allows employees to receive mental health care through live, interactive communication with a licensed provider in a private setting, whether that’s at work, at home or in a healthcare facility. Telepsychiatry is particularly useful given the severe shortage of psychiatrists, which limits access to critical care and results in long wait times.

Impact of mental illness on employers

Mental illness is the leading cause of disability, accounting for one-third of new disability claims in 2015. Depression is among the top workplace challenges for employee assistance programs, along with family crisis and stress. While most employers provide coverage for mental health care, benefits and services aimed at preventing or reducing depression are often underutilized by employees for a variety of reasons. For example, they may have difficulty finding an in-network psychiatry provider in their area, trouble making an appointment that fits around their work schedule or employees may feel stigmatized or embarrassed by their condition.

Untreated mental health issues are costly to employers. The total economic burden of major depression, for example, is estimated to be $210.5 billion per year — nearly half of which is attributed to the workplace, including missed work days and reduced output. Further cost implications can also be attributed to treating medical conditions that often coexist with depression. Employees who suffer depression frequently have other medical conditions that occur at the same time, including diabetes, asthma, COPD, heart disease, chronic pain and insomnia. Treating these coexisting problems can significantly drive up costs. For example, researchers found that for every dollar spent treating depression, $1.55 was spend on depression workplace costs, while $2.13 was spent on treating coexisting disorders.

Advantages of offering a telepsychiatry benefit to employees

Investing in the mental wellbeing of employees creates measurable returns. Research by the American Psychiatric Foundation found that after only three weeks of mental health treatment, the number of work-impaired employees with behavioral health conditions was reduced by half, and after a little more than four months of treatment, two-thirds were no longer work-impaired.

Telepsychiatry can help employers improve productivity and profitability. Here are five reason why:

  1. Convenient

Providing convenient access to psychiatric and mental health care via telepsychiatry can help reduce absenteeism, tardiness and anger issues by allowing employees access to easy and convenient treatments thus enabling more consistent work attendance. Online appointments allow busy professionals to easily access specialty behavioral health services in a private and comfortable setting. Employees can also schedule appointments outside of traditional weekday time slots, such as weekends or in the evening, which reduces travel time and time away from work. By providing enhanced access to care, employees are more likely to engage in services more proactively and routinely.

  1. Prompt

When behavioral health issues are left untreated, they tend to get progressively worse. With telepsychiatry, employees have prompt access to routine care that reduces the chance of the condition becoming urgent or emergent. In light of the dramatic shortage of mental health providers, resources are scarce, driving up wait times to be seen in person. Telepsychiatry meets employees where they are, offering them faster access to care. Accessing telepsychiatry through online platforms not only allows for real-time diagnosis and treatment, but also provides more opportunities for communication between the employee and their mental health provider between sessions.

  1. Increased well-being

Employees who suffer from behavioral health issues cost employers $44 billion per year in lost productivity, mostly in the form of presenteeism — when employees are physically but not mentally present or working at full capacity. Offering mental health care not only reduces employee stress but improves morale. One study found employees who completed just one session with a mental health provider experienced significant improvement in work performance. Employers reported increased productivity and substantial improvement in overall mental health.

  1. Private

Telepsychiatry protects employee privacy and confidentiality just as in-person care does. Moreover, many find that not being in the same room as the provider actually enhances feelings of safety for many. Accessing appointments online also eliminates the possibility of running into co-workers in waiting rooms and/or psychiatry providers’ offices, which can be uncomfortable and contribute to anxiety.

  1. Quality care

Telepsychiatry is has been clinically proven to deliver high quality care that meets the standard of traditional in-person care for diagnostic accuracy, treatment, effectiveness, quality of care and patient satisfaction. Telepsychiatry offers enhanced access to care, which improves an employee’s ability to use services proactively and routinely, and providers can diagnose and prescribe medicine in the same way an in-person psychiatrist can.

Through telepsychiatry, employees and employers can experience better outcomes across the board.

Barry Doan has more than 30 years of behavioral health industry experience and now works for Inpathy, a division of the leading national telepsychiatry service provider organization that delivers telepsychiatry directly to employees and other individuals online.

Original story published on BenefitsPro.com on 4/24/17.

If you are in crisis, call 988 to talk with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, text HOME to 741741 to connect to a free crisis counselor, or go to your nearest emergency room.