There are a number of effective treatments for PTSD. However, these treatments are effective only to the extent that they reach the people who need them. Some people in need of PTSD treatment may not have immediate access to mental health providers who provide such treatments, such as people in rural areas. Therefore, some mental health professionals have begun to look to telehealth as a way of delivering PTSD treatments to those in need.
What Is Telehealth?
Telehealth refers to the delivery of health services through telecommunication technology, such as the internet, telephone, or videoconferencing. The last decade has seen tremendous advances in communication technology, use of this technology, and access to this technology. As a result, health providers are increasingly recognizing ways to use this technology to reach patients who may be need of services but who don't have immediate access to services.
Telehealth also has some benefits over traditional "in-person" services. It decreases costs that patients may incur, such as lost time at work or transportation costs. It also may make services more accessible for people that can't easily get to health providers, such as the elderly, prisoners, or the disabled.
A Telehealth Treatment for PTSD
Several groups of researchers have also begun to see if PTSD treatment delivered through telehealth technology can be a useful way to reach veterans who may not have immediate access to a VA center. In one such study published in the journal Behavior Therapy, a group of researchers at the Ralph H. Johnson Veterans Administration Medical Center and Medical University of South Carolina looked at whether exposure therapy for PTSD could be successfully delivered through telehealth technology. In this case, teleconferencing was used where the patient could both hear and see the therapist on a screen.
They looked at 62 veterans who took part in individual exposure therapy through telehealth technology at a local community-based outpatient clinic, as well as 27 veterans who received in-person exposure therapy. Most of the veterans had either served in the OEF/OIF or Vietnam. The exposure therapy lasted 12 sessions.
They found that exposure therapy delivered through telehealth was successful in reducing PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, and stress. Patients who took part in the in-person exposure therapy experienced a greater reduction in their PTSD symptoms and depression, however. The researchers also found that older veterans were more likely to complete treatment through telehealth than younger veterans.
Overall, this study shows the benefits of delivering exposure therapy through telehealth technology. Although the telehealth treatment didn't appear to change PTSD symptoms as much as the in-person treatment, it still resulted in a major decrease in PTSD symptoms -- much more than would have likely been experienced if the patients never attended treatment.
Finding a Treatment Provider for Your PTSD
Unfortunately, telehealth treatments for PTSD are not yet widely available. Although the technology is there, it can be expensive, limiting its availability. However, VAs in particular are increasing their investigation and use of telehealth treatments as a way of reaching more patients with PTSD. We should see more telehealth treatments in the near future. You can read more about telehealth treatment advancements at the VA's website.
If you are seeking treatment for PTSD, there are also a number of websites available to find PTSD treatment providers in your area.
Dunn, B.E., Hongyung, C,. Almagro, A., Recla, D.L., & Davis, C.W. (2000). Telepathology networking in VISN-12 of the Veterans Health Administration. Telemedicine Journal and e-Health, 6, 349-354.
Gros, D.F., Yoder, M., Tuerk, P.W., Lozano, B.E., & Acierno, R. (2011). Exposure therapy for PTSD delivered to Veterans via telehealth: Predictors of treatment completion and outcome and comparison to treatment delivered in person. Behavior Therapy, 42, 276-283. Dunn, B.E., Hongyung, C,. Almagro, A., Recla, D.L., & Davis, C.W. (2000). Telepathology networking in VISN-12 of the Veterans Health Administration. Telemedicine Journal and e-Health, 6, 349-354.
Richardson, L.K., Frueh, B.C., Grubaugh, A.L., Egede, L., & Elhai, J.D (2009). Current directions in videoconferences tele-mental health research. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 16, 323-338.