Key Requirements for Tele-Mental Health Platforms to Support Student Mental Health During a Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has underscored the exacerbated challenges that students in higher education face. To cater to the increasing demand from anxious, stressed and in many cases depressed students, colleges and universities have expanded their mental health counseling support with additional staff. Along with that they are also increasingly relying on tele-mental health software platforms like Doko to cope with the ongoing elevated demand for such services 1. Web and mobile based applications like Doko provide virtual therapy services to students to help them manage their mental health issues and receive valuable counselling sessions from licensed clinicians or Clinical Social Workers.
For a long time in US health care use of telehealth as a serious vehicle of care delivery remained a debated item. There were voices both in favor and against usage of such "virtual therapy" for patients. However, the pandemic changed that thinking and pushed both the care provider and patients to telehealth. The American Psychiatric Association reported 2 that while most of its member clinicians did not use telehealth prior to the pandemic, they have found that about 85 percent of the 500 members who responded to their recent survey in June 2020 were overwhelmingly using tele-mental health platforms to serve their patients.
Source: Psychiatrists Use of Telepsychiatry during COVID-19 Public Health Emergency - Policy Recommendations from American Psychiatric Association
One of the major challenges that colleges and universities face is caused by the campus closure due to COVID-19 outbreak this fall. Counseling centers of the colleges had to quickly shift to all virtual services. While doing that colleges encountered difficulties with state licensure regulations that prevent therapist who is licensed to provide care in the state where the college campus is located to provide such therapy to a student in his or her home state. During early part of the pandemic many states temporarily exempted health care providers from this requirement, but the terms of the exemptions varied by state. Many states now have lifted such exemptions causing licensure rules to return to the status quo. This is an area where tele-mental health platforms like Doko would be helpful. For example, Doko works with many licensed providers who are based in various states. Based on the home state of the student requesting a therapy service, Doko can assign an appropriate provider to that student in that state. This would be a big benefit to colleges and universities who are finding themselves in the licensure complications. Additionally, unlike the campus-based college counsellors, students do not have to wait for the next business day and business hours to ask for a service on the Doko platform. Request can be placed during evenings or on weekends which makes it convenient for the students who are typically occupied with their academic workloads during the day or the business week.
While meeting the access needs of the students in a timely fashion is key to success for tele-mental health platforms it is important to ensure that a student is connected to the right kind of a care provider based on the mental health issue that the student is trying to cope with 3. Doko has made investments to hire local care navigators who would be the first person to handle the service request. The care navigator is typically based in the home state of the student and is knowledgeable about the available clinician network in that state. This also add a much-desired human touch rather than leaving the assignment of a care provider to an algorithm which many telehealth platforms typically do. When a student is anxious or stressed out the calming voice of a care navigator to understand the issue and subsequently directing the student to the right provider is one of the key differentiators for Doko.
Tele-mental health platforms are also careful in ensuring that their platform and brand do not overshadow the brand association that students have with their colleges. It is important to ensure that students receive a digital experience that is similar to what they expect from their school. Many telehealth or tele-mental health platforms like Doko, therefore, build college branded portals based on their platform that include key messaging from the schools' administrators or the counsellors. When a student visits the portal of a tele-mental health platform that is customized for his or her college, the student gets a look and feel like that is similar to other online assets of the college. Portals often provide analytics dashboards to the college-based counsellors who can use that to track the utilization of the platform by the students to receive care. They can scale their tele-mental health platform deployment up or down based on the utilization pattern.
Overall, tele-mental health platforms like Doko are well positioned to become an essential part of the mental health delivery programs of colleges and universities in the United States. However, the platforms need to fulfill some essential requirements to enable colleges to meet the emerging needs of their students with adequate access and timeliness of the service with a human touch. Doko has made strong strides towards that goal.