|Jane Hovland, associate director of the Center for Rural Mental Health Studies.|
|Claudia Weber with the PolyCom device and television used in Telemental Health|
“Studies have shown that people from a rural area wait longer to get help than people from urban areas,” said Jane Hovland, associate professor of Biomedical Sciences and associate director of the Center for Rural Mental Health Studies (CRMHS). “The severity of the symptoms over this amount of time can worsen as people wait for care. In addition, when mental health care is not available in a community, the costs of treatment increase because of time and travel, making it almost prohibitive. CRMHS helps with this problem, by providing mental health services to these smaller communities.”
CRMHS, part of the University of Minnesota Medical School Duluth Campus, uses an interactive video system or Telemental Health, to provide mental health services to people in rural Minnesota. There are 13 clinics and hospitals participating in CRMHS, which started in 2003 to help UMD alumni who were located in rural communities without mental health services.
“All the areas in which the study has been implemented are rural areas that have no mental health care services,” said Claudia Weber, CRMHS coordinator who is a licensed psychologist and a licensed pharmacist. “There are no competitors or even private firms in those areas. Once there is a private practitioner, we move out of the community.”
At their local hospital or clinic, patients are set up in a room with a large television. The CRMHS psychologist or psychiatrist use the televisions to have a video-to-video session with the patient. After the Telemental Health session, the CRMHS psychologist or psychiatrist provides the physician clinical impressions and offers treatment or further referral recommendations. Patients also receive copies of these recommendations. Patients have to be referred by their physician for these services.
“This is a collaborative approach to behavior and medical health,” said Weber. “These two medical fields complement each other and our program provides a service where usually there is none. It gives the patient another person to support them and another source in medicine to help direct them.”
Many people in rural Minnesota are less likely to seek help for mental issues for many reasons including cost, negative stigma, not having transportation, or not being able to take time off work.
“The stigma can decrease with a program like this, because people look like they are just going to the hospital or clinic,” said Weber. “Also, because it's at their local hospital or clinic, it is easier for them to get the help they need.”
A survey of people in the program found that participants were very satisfied or extremely satisfied with their treatment. Out of a four point system, 85% of the participants gave a three points or higher.
“Over the last 13 years, we have seen almost 1,000 patients, which encompass 4,300 visits,” said Hovland, who in addition to being a licensed psychologist also is a masters-prepared nurse.
“After a few visits, people usually feel better and are able to move on with their lives. Although the center only interacts with small populations of people, it does have a huge impact on these communities,” Weber said. “Once one person feels healthier, it creates a ripple effect in the community making it better as a whole.”
CRMHS is grant funded and fees for services. For more information, go to the CRMHS website.
Written by Katarina Menze February, 2015.
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