One year ago, New Vista launched telehealth services in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had already built the technology infrastructure to launch telehealth in early 2020, so we were ready to quickly make the switch to all telehealth services to support our clients without missing a beat. Many in our community have experienced a decline in mental health due to anxiety, stress and isolation during the pandemic. At the same time, overdoses in Kentucky were seeing an increase. We knew our services were essential to the health of children, adults and families in Central Kentucky. March marks the one-year anniversary of our first telehealth session, with more than 83,942 sessions for nearly 11,000 clients in the first year.
We talked with two of our mental health professionals about their telehealth surprises, challenges and hopes for the future. Billie Dunaway, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and Dr. David Hudson, Chief Medical Officer share their experiences offering telehealth to rural parts of Central Kentucky.
What has surprised you most about telehealth?
Billie Dunaway: I was very surprised how easily my clients and I were able to adjust to treatment via telehealth. Clients were both willing and optimistic. I am so appreciative of this technology and of New Vista for adjusting during the pandemic so that we could still work and provide these needed services.
Dr. David Hudson: I was surprised by the openness of families to adapt so quickly. When we began the telehealth pilot project several years ago, regulations mandated that services had to be delivered from one office to a telehealth system at another office. The rapid change allowing telehealth directly to the client’s own device was a welcome surprise. Other fun surprises included the number of pets I have met and observing how often someone’s email address reflects their personality.
What do you see as the benefits of telehealth services?
Billie Dunaway: Clients report telehealth is beneficial as it saves time, travel and gas expenses. They are also more comfortable in their home and have enjoyed showing me their pets, special hobbies and things they would not have been able to share in the office. Also, it is easier to get clients in for their session if they have forgotten, because there is no commute!
Dr. David Hudson: Benefits from a client standpoint include convenience, decreased barriers such as transportation and the opportunity to have sessions in an environment that is comfortable for the client. As clinicians, it helps us improve the continuity of care because of decreased missed appointments, unique opportunities to get to know our clients and the ability to work clients in sooner for more urgent appointments.
How do you think telehealth will change behavioral health services?
Billie Dunaway: I think it will continue to make behavioral health services accessible to more people. It helps providers communicate with each other in a more supportive and team like approach. Through telehealth services, I have been able to attend more trainings, team meetings, and strengthen the collaborative care given to my clients.
Dr. David Hudson: The expansion of telehealth is certainly a ‘silver lining’ and there is no going back now. I believe a flexible hybrid model that gives clients and clinicians options for using telehealth or in-person services will be the norm going forward. I am confident that New Vista will adapt exceptionally well to this next chapter as it aligns with our strengths and our core mission of providing client-centered care.