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Advancements in tech have a positive effect on employee mental health

Virtual therapy provides care without productivity loss


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More than $1 trillion is lost every year due to alarmingly high rates of depression and anxiety, affecting productivity in the workplace. Despite improvements, there continues to be significant stigma surrounding mental health disorders and treatment, especially at work. Because of this, individuals in need are often hesitant to seek treatment. For employees, this stigma, along with the existing depression and anxiety, can lead to a loss of drive or enjoyment at work. For employers, it means low morale, lower productivity and costly employee absences.

It’s clear there is a need for improved access to mental health services both in and out of the workplace. How can employers assist their staff with minimal impact on the workplace? The technological applications offered by many medical providers and health insurance companies can certainly help clear the path to improved access to care. As a psychiatrist, I often see the benefits that technology offers my patients — something employers should consider as part of their mental health support plan.

Removing Barriers

We hear often that too much time spent on our smart devices is bad for us. In many cases that’s true — as the saying goes, everything in moderation. But our smart devices have many positive applications and uses in places we may not expect — like mental health.

Due to the stigma that persists surrounding mental health treatment, many individuals don’t know where to start or who to ask for help. It’s often easier to send an email or use an app to instantly connect with a health care provider for guidance. There can be a comfortable anonymity in talking with someone via virtual means. Many patients have told me they feel more at ease opening up about sensitive matters from the safety of their home or work environment rather than face to face with a psychiatrist or therapist.

Barriers related to physical or medical conditions can also place limitations on an individual seeking help for their mental health. Using email to touch base or having video or phone appointments can be ideal in these scenarios.

Making it Convenient

Mental health doesn’t wait for kids to be dropped off at school, commutes to be over or email inboxes to be cleaned up. As an employer, providing your employees a health plan with options like phone, video or instant chat allows for more convenient access to mental health services. Offering these virtual care options means that your employees may be able to get their mental health needs met without having to take time away from work by scheduling or commuting to an appointment.

In our snowy Colorado communities, mental health providers often see high cancellation or no-show rates during inclement weather. Similar to providing your employees with work from home options on these snowy, accident-prone commute days, technology provides us with the ability to easily convert appointments to virtual options: video, phone or email. This means that my patients (and your employees) will not miss out on the crucial care they need.  

The bottom line is that with so many advancements in technology today, your employees expect care to be easy to access and mental health is no exception. While technology shouldn’t replace face to face visits completely, it can help individuals take the first step to getting the mental health care they need and improve compliance with long-term care. As an employer, you can help your staff gain access to mental health services that enable them to be their best every day — helping advance their careers and your business along the way.

About Sara Vogel: Sara Vogel, MD, is a psychiatrist with the Colorado Permanente Medical Group which serves more than 650,000 members of Kaiser Permanente Colorado.

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