CFS counselors deliver nearly 19,000 telehealth sessions during pandemic so far
I remember that moment in time in mid-March when things started to shut down: Our team made the decision that we were going to convey calm and confidence during the unfolding pandemic. Although mental health treatment was deemed essential, there was another solution that would ensure care could continue while protecting the health and well-being of our employees and clients – telehealth.
We moved swiftly to transition all of our clients to appointments via secure video connection. Fortunately, many of our clinicians were already trained to deliver services via telehealth. We had been using telehealth for more than a decade. Still, there was a transition to be sure that clients were comfortable with the technology and insurance companies would cover telehealth sessions. All of that fell into place quickly, and CFS was able to continue services during the uncertainty. I’m thankful for the quick adaptation of our team.
I was revisiting some numbers this past week, and the magnitude of this transition struck me: The 100+ mental health professionals of Christian Family Solutions have delivered 18,713 counseling sessions via telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic so far. That statistic covers the 13-week period between March 16 and June 12. To put this into perspective:
- CFS delivered 4,030 sessions via telehealth all of last year (2019).
- For the same period from March to June 2019, CFS delivered 996 telehealth sessions, which was 4% of all the counseling sessions delivered during that time period, both in-person and via telehealth.
The numbers tell the story of an amazing transition in the way services are delivered, and it could not have happened without a community effort:
- Technology providers needed to step up to make it possible for everyone to work from home.
- Insurance providers needed to agree to cover telehealth services without delay for clients.
- Regulators and public policy makers needed to move swiftly to relax regulations so clients could receive care without interruption.
- Clients needed to adapt.
- Counselors needed to adapt.
- Referral sources needed to refer with confidence and reassure clients that they could be cared for during an uncertain time.
All of this teamwork means that those who need access to essential mental health care can access those services safely and effectively. We are so grateful for the way our team, the insurance providers, the regulators, our referral sources – everyone – has worked together thus far to make this possible.
Where do we go from here?
After a period of offering services exclusively through telehealth, some Christian Family Solutions clinic locations reintroduced in-person work with clients in early June and is continuing to reintroduce in-person visits as needed and desired by clients. Because telehealth is effective and some clients prefer it, CFS will likely use a mix of in-person and online treatment in order to minimize close contact and reduce risk for exposure to illness. This hybrid approach also will allow those clients who cannot be seen in person for illness or any other reason to continue to receive treatment via telehealth.
From a public policy standpoint, and as a community of providers, we need to work together to ensure that telehealth remains a viable option for clients. It has proven effective. For some individuals, telehealth removes barriers to care such as location, transportation, and stigma. We are able to reduce costs, increase access, and serve a population that is consistently concerned with those two issues. The benefits often outweigh the negatives for everyone involved.
It is our hope that the following developments will continue forward with momentum:
- Public policy makers will recognize that telehealth is a safe and effective way to address the growing mental health problem in America.
- Insurance providers will continue to cover counseling and therapy sessions using telehealth in the same way they cover face to face visits, including group and intensive services.
- Regulators will remove licensing barriers and have a system of reciprocity, as well as consider compacts to allow providers to practice across geographical lines.
- Everyone involved in the delivery of services through telehealth will continue to take reasonable measures to ensure privacy and security as well as client safety.
Clients and their providers should be allowed to make decisions on their care that provides the best outcome. Telehealth can be a part of the solution. Consider what this crisis has done to propel telehealth forward, and let’s work together to build on the good while ensuring that access to quality care remains the primary objective.
Andrea Semmann is a Certified Telehealth Coordinator and Director of Operations and Telehealth for Christian Family Solutions. She helps the counseling staff connect with individuals, whether face-to-face or through using video conferencing, to increase access for individuals seeking Christian counseling.
ABOUT CHRISTIAN FAMILY SOLUTIONS: based in Germantown, WI, Christian Family Solutions provides outpatient counseling, day treatment and intensive outpatient programs through its 52 clinics in 6 states as well as through telehealth worldwide. CFS blends evidence-based methods and high standards of care with Christian faith-based principles to heal and help individuals facing a wide range of mental health issues. Since 1965, CFS has provided this counseling care along with senior services through assisted living and in-home care. Learn more at ChristianFamilySolutions.org.