Mental health professionals and telehealth in a rural setting: a cross sectional survey

Nelson, David, Inghels, Maxime, Kenny, Amanda , Skinner, Steve, McCranor, Tracy, Wyatt, Stephen, Phull, Jaspreet, Nanyonjo, Agnes, Yusuff, Ojali and Gussy, Mark (2023) Mental health professionals and telehealth in a rural setting: a cross sectional survey. BMC Health Services Research, 23 . p. 200. ISSN 1472-6963

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Mental health professionals and telehealth in a rural setting: a cross sectional survey
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Telehealth usage has been promoted in all settings but has been identified as a panacea to issues of access and equity in the rural context. However, uptake and widespread integration of telehealth across all parts of the health system has been slow, with a myriad of barriers documented, including in rural settings. The crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, saw barriers rapidly overturned with the unprecedented and exponential rise in telehealth usage. The uniqueness of the crisis forced telehealth adoption, but as the urgency stabilises, pandemic learnings must be captured, utilised, and built upon in a post-pandemic world. The aim of this study was to document staff experiences and perceptions of delivering rural psychological therapies via telehealth during the pandemic and to capture learnings for future rural telehealth delivery.

An online cross-sectional survey that explored mental health professional’s experiences, use, and perceptions of telehealth before and after pandemic-enforced changes to service delivery.

Sixty-two respondents completed the questionnaire (response rate 68%). Both the delivery of telehealth via telephone and online video conferencing significantly increased during the pandemic (66% vs 98%, p < .001 for telephone and 10% vs 89%, p < 0.001 for online video). Respondents indicated that client’s access to services and attendance had improved with telehealth use but their attention and focus during sessions and non-verbal communication had been negatively affected. The challenges for older adults, people with learning and sensory disabilities, and residents in remote areas with poorer mobile/internet connectivity were identified. Despite these challenges, none of the respondents indicated a preference to return to fully face-to-face service delivery with most (86%) preferring to deliver psychological therapies fully or mostly via telehealth.

This study addresses three major gaps in knowledge: the experience of delivering local telehealth solutions to address rural mental health needs, the provision of strong rural-specific telehealth recommendations, and the dearth of rural research emanating from the United Kingdom. As the world settles into a living with COVID-19 era, the uniqueness of the rural telehealth context may be forgotten as urban myopia continues to dominate telehealth policy and uptake. It is critical that rural resourcing and digital connectivity are addressed.

Keywords:Telehealth, Telemedicine, Psychological therapies, COVID-19 Pandemic, rural health, IAPT therapists, IAPT, United Kingdom, mental health
Subjects:B Subjects allied to Medicine > B990 Subjects Allied to Medicine not elsewhere classified
A Medicine and Dentistry > A900 Others in Medicine and Dentistry
A Medicine and Dentistry > A990 Medicine and Dentistry not elsewhere classified
B Subjects allied to Medicine > B760 Mental Health Nursing
Divisions:College of Social Science > Lincoln International Institute for Rural Health
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ID Code:53551
Deposited On:09 Mar 2023 10:53

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