Coronavirus distancing leapfrogs patients into telehealth for therapy

Like all of us – I wish we were on the other side of coronavirus looking back – then I’d say remember how social distancing got us to jump into telehealth for mental health therapy? We let go of a little HIPPA. We made the best of the technology we had, finishing on the phone when need be.

Today I’ll just point to the MPR article highlighting the shift to online mental health therapy…

Until last week, Jen Atherton, a mental health counselor, had rarely ever seen clients outside of her office — Not anymore. Like a lot of us, Atherton is working from home now and she’s seeing her patients via video. She said for her office, the switch to telehealth “was pretty much an overnight thing.”

So far, the biggest challenges have been technological: Some of it is bandwidth, which can get crowded with so many people on the internet and on Wi-Fi networks. Atherton said she’s also encountered problems with clients’ cellphones or when they’re sitting in noisy places.

She said she’s trying to adjust the best she can.

And of course, there’s the reminder that until we have ubiquitous broadband, these services are not available to everyone…

He’s worried that with new rules about social distancing, clients who can’t access care through telehealth won’t get any mental health care at all. He estimates that 20 to 25 percent — maybe more — of the families they serve don’t have smartphones, computers or the kind of internet access that would let them access telehealth services. For now, he said his providers are getting around that by informally checking in on clients on the phone.

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About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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