More Patients Using Video Therapy
> 10/10/2006 10:02:24 AM

In order to offer underserviced patients expanded access to medical and therapuetic options, an increasing number of doctors and institutions have begun to offer long-distance video therapy options. One might think that the very personal, revealing aspects of psychotherapy do not lend themselves to video or phone conferencing. In recent surveys, however, patients receiving long-distance therapy reported satisfaction levels nearly identical to those who met with therapists face-to-face. Of course, the delicate specifics of any therapy regimen are not unaffected by this new form of delivery. Some believe that the simulated intimacy of such exchanges works to diminish the personal connections established between doctor and patient. In visual terms, a patient's emotional state would seem to be harder to read from a video monitor than from a chair ten feet away, but some experts dismiss these issues as minor, easily surmountable inconveniences.

The element of video is not an entirely new development in psychotherapy, though in its previous incarnations it served mostly as a recording device used to encourage patients to view themselves as others did. A related movement in the mid-70's involved therapists taping their sessions for later viewing and follow-up discussion with patients. By watching themselves and their own reactions, patients were supposedly able to better understand how their emotional states might affect outside parties.

Telemedicine, or the use of video and other digital technologies in medical practice, takes many forms outside the world of psychotherapy as well: some addiction specialists use video conferencing to organize interventions, while physical therapists can gauge the general progress of certain patients via video. Other developments, like the ambulatory EEG, allow patients to undergo medical examination procedures at home when they were previously restricted to the clinic. Psychiatrists in Britain recently desinged interactive computer programs as forms of automated cognitive behavioral therapy, and user reviews were enthusiastic. Institutions with hundreds of potential patients, like prisons and high schools, can also benefit from video as a time and space saving therapeutic tool.

Though its practice is not yet widespread, the video therapy phenomenon promises to offer services to patients who might not otherwise receive them, particularly the physically disabled, who cannot travel to an office, or residents and rural communities with no direct access to therapists. Most prefer the idea of meeting with a therapist in person, but the potential for a large-scale digital mental health network is exciting, and various imperfections in the method will certainly improve with time. Here at Treatment Online, we have built video technology into our services, and our psychologists and psychiatrists have already provided some very positive feedback. The availability of high speed connections and webcams will take telemedicine places it has never been before.

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