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How Language Services Make Telemental Health Visits More Accessible

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Mental health services are becoming increasingly accessible -- but are limited-English speakers able to take advantage?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth visits made it possible for patients that were isolated at home or at heightened risk of illness to continue receiving care in spite of social distancing measures and concerns. These care models have proven so effective that many providers continue to utilize telemedicine as we move beyond the pandemic. While virtual visits are specifically designed to eliminate certain barriers to care, limited-English proficient (LEP) patients are at risk of not getting the care they need if language access hasn't been considered.

What Is Telemental Health?

In the most simple terms, telemental health is mental health care delivered via telecommunications technology, such as by videoconferencing. Telemental health is also sometimes called telepsychology and telepsychiatry. This virtual care allows providers to offer services remotely to patients that may not otherwise be accessible. Research has shown that telemedicine in the mental health field may be effective for a range of conditions, including: 

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 

For the general population, access to telemental health services is notably more convenient. Appointments can be carried out without travel, taking time off of work, or making major schedule adjustments. Telemental health services can also be an easier first step emotionally for some patients, with remote appointments sometimes seeming less intimidating than an in-office visit. 

A Closer Look at Mental Health Disparities for LEP Individuals 

Due to the many barriers to care, LEP individuals face a number of disparities in mental health. They are far less likely to seek care even though there is still a need for mental health services.

Language should never be a barrier to mental healthcare. However, the statistics prove that something as natural as the primary language spoken is a huge stumbling block for LEP patients. Not to mention, LEP patients often face major barriers to getting much-needed mental health care beyond lacking language support. A few examples include perceived or actual provider discrimination, the stigma associated with seeking psychological care, and socioeconomic factors like lack of transportation or coverage.

How Language Access in Telemedicine Addresses Mental Health Disparities 

All things considered, the telemental health model is in a good position to eliminate many of the barriers that stand in the way of people getting the mental health care they need. Unfortunately, one major barrier still exists for LEP individuals looking for telemental health services: language access. Therefore, the advantages of telemental health access are greatly diminished for underrepresented groups of people. 

When the mental health care provider gives priority to making sure telemental health services are mindful of LEP patients, those patients in need are more likely to reach out for help. One recent study found that non-English-speaking individuals used telemedicine 50% less than English-speaking individuals. Lack of language support could be one of the most prominent reasons for the major divide. 

How Mental Health Providers Can Do Better for LEP Patients 

The first step is to take a hard look at your existing telemedicine model. Determine if your telehealth solution can support LEP patients. If not, taking actionable steps to make sure all groups have access to care is important and not as difficult as it may sound. 

prospective study was published in late 2021 in lieu of COVID-19 aimed at giving clinicians guiding advice on improving telemedicine access for LEP patients. A few guidelines mentioned to help care providers offer more inclusive telemedicine care models included: 

  • Training clinicians on how to work effectively with interpreters while using telemedicine 
  • Developing best-practice guidelines for all staff members to follow with LEP patients during telemedicine appointments 
  • Training all staff members to understand how limited language access affects health outcomes 
  • Improving access to the equipment necessary to support three-way encounters with an interpreter, clinician, and the patient 
  • Providing written and oral information about the availability of telemedicine in other languages 

Remove Barriers to Mental Health Care in Your Organization 

Need help designing your language access plan as a behavioral health provider? Get in touch with GLOBO's Language Access Experts today. 

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