Telemedicine Tackles Mental Health Treatment - InformationWeek

InformationWeek is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

08:33 AM

Telemedicine Tackles Mental Health Treatment

Online communities and computerized cognitive behavioral therapy can help break the stigma of depression, extend providers, and reduce overmedication, report says.

Telemedicine Tools That Are Transforming Healthcare
Telemedicine Tools That Are Transforming Healthcare
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
There are many reasons why people don't seek treatment for mild to moderate depression, including social stigmas, lack of insurance coverage for mental health, unwillingness to try psychoactive medications, and doubt about whether a primary care physician is the right person to approach with emotional concerns. Technology--specifically what is being called computer-based cognitive therapy--may help break down some of those barriers.

"Computer-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT) cost-effectively leverages the Internet for coaching patterns in self-driven or provider-assisted programs. Technological advances have enabled computer systems designed to replicate aspects of cognitive behavior therapy for a growing range of mental health issues," said a new California HealthCare Foundation report about Web-based care for mental health.

The report, authored by health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, discusses how this technology, often called e-therapy or tele-mental health, offers a low-cost, comfortable alternative to traditional psychotherapy and can extend options into underserved rural areas and inner cities.

Dr. Peter Yellowlees, a psychiatrist at the University of California, Davis, who researches telehealth, said in the report that videoconferencing can make psychotherapy more appealing to some patients, helping to overcome any stigma associated with depression. "Video can offer a bit of extra space," he is quoted as saying. "People are often more honest on computers than face-to-face. If you want to ask a difficult question, it can be better to do it on a computer, compared with being face-to-face with paper and pencil."

[ Practice management software keeps the medical office running smoothly. For a closer look at KLAS' top-ranked systems, see 10 Top Medical Practice Management Software Systems. ]

The United States and France have the highest rates of depression in the world, according to World Health Organization data cited in the report, yet only a third of people in the U.S. with depression ever seek help, according to the report. Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, "we are going to have to deal with mental health," Sarasohn-Kahn told InformationWeek Healthcare.

According to the study, less than half of Americans taking antidepressants have seen a mental health professional in the past year, and sometimes people whose depression is not severe might need therapy more than medications. "Prescribe computer-based therapy before medicating for mild to moderate depression," Sarasohn-Kahn advised.

"In addition to online videoconferencing, patients looking for help with mild to moderate depression and anxiety might be able to receive services through self-administered computer-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CCBT), mobile health apps, therapy-oriented games, virtual reality, and online social networks," Sarasohn-Kahn wrote in a post on her Health Populi blog.

Gaming, in particular, can help remove the stigma for children and adolescents. "Video therapy might also be a 'safe space' for discussing difficult or painful issues that could facilitate rapport," Sarasohn-Kahn said in an interview.

She noted that 80% of primary care physicians in the United Kingdom use online behavioral therapy site Beating the Blues to teach coping skills as an initial therapy before turning to antidepressants, and have for several years. "It's not new," according to Sarasohn-Kahn.

Seven in 10 patients who were recommended for Beating the Blues did not need in-person psychotherapy, the British National Health Service found. Thanks to this history, the system has been exported to several other countries, including in the U.S. at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and it is being evaluated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Another program, Eliza, employs automated voice-response technology in a depression-screening tool for health plans and employee assistance programs.

In the social arena, PatientsLikeMe, which started as a community for people with neurological disorders, developed a "mood map" because so many people with conditions like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis also show signs of depression. "[PatientsLikeMe] captures far more than the data recorded in purely medical environments--granular aspects of daily living that are critical to understanding the context of a person's mood," the report explained.

Technology such as this can "scale up quickly," according to Sarasohn-Kahn. This makes it useful for cash-strapped state Medicaid programs and federally qualified health centers. "A growing number of therapists are seeing this as a revenue source," she added.

Get the new, all-digital Healthcare CIO 25 issue of InformationWeek Healthcare. It's our second annual honor roll of the health IT leaders driving healthcare's transformation. (Free registration required.)

We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2012 | 4:02:04 PM
re: Telemedicine Tackles Mental Health Treatment
Dear Neil thank you for your article.

I agree with you that it a shame that many individuals do not have the opportunity to seek treatment for their low mood or anxiety due to stigma or lack of money. I have just put on the market my award winning PhD research. I have created my program by combining artificial intelligence and CCBT. My program uses modern technology to create CCBT that simulates face-to-face therapy. My program ( costs a fraction of what face-to-face therapy costs and has several major advantages, such as the program creates a highly specific feedback to users, so no two users get the same intervention. If you are interested, you can check it out at my website:

Kind Regards,
Dr. Fjola Helgadottir
@ the University of Oxford, UK and
10 Top Cloud Computing Startups
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek,  8/3/2020
How Enterprises Can Adopt Video Game Cloud Strategy
Joao-Pierre S. Ruth, Senior Writer,  7/28/2020
Conversational AI Comes of Age
Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary,  8/7/2020
White Papers
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
2020 State of DevOps Report
2020 State of DevOps Report
Download this report today to learn more about the key tools and technologies being utilized, and how organizations deal with the cultural and process changes that DevOps brings. The report also examines the barriers organizations face, as well as the rewards from DevOps including faster application delivery, higher quality products, and quicker recovery from errors in production.
Current Issue
Special Report: Why Performance Testing is Crucial Today
This special report will help enterprises determine what they should expect from performance testing solutions and how to put them to work most efficiently. Get it today!
Flash Poll