September was a devastating month for people across Texas and Florida following two historic hurricanes. We've seen the damage played across our television screens: lives lost, homes and jobs lost, families huddled together in shelters, thankful to be alive, but wondering what their next steps should be. After the physical danger of a natural disaster has passed, and after the news cameras have gone away, the people of the community still have a long road to structural, physical, economic, and emotional recovery.
Immediately after experiencing a natural disaster, nearly everyone will have feelings of anxiety, grief, and shock. Most will recover. According to the Disaster and Community Crisis Center at the University of Missouri, it is important to note that "...people are resilient... Some people may even experience personal growth or have other positive outcomes..." Positive outcomes may include an improved sense of well-being from helping others or increased awareness of the good in their lives. But for other people, these feelings will linger, leading to more serious issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), chronic depression, anxiety, or addictions. Likewise, some who already deal with these problems may experience a relapse or increase in symptoms.
The Challenge of Providing Care Following a Disaster
Following a natural disaster, not only are homes destroyed or damaged and patients displaced, often doctors' offices are damaged and providers displaced as well. Acquiring basic needs, caring for family members, cleaning up and rebuilding are at the forefront of most peoples' minds - not making it to their therapist's office. Due to circumstances like these, telemedicine is seeing a boost following Harvey and Irma, because it is providing a way for patients to receive the behavioral or emotional health care they need without having to travel to an office.
Telemedicine for Behavioral Health Care
Telemedicine is quickly becoming a viable resource for providing medical care to patients who live in rural areas, but has lagged behind as an option for providing behavioral health care. When local care became unavailable due to the storms, many patients were able to turn to on-line resources, such as MDLive and BetterHelp - two telemedicine companies that offer such services (for a limited time, both are offering special pricing for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma). Patients are able to get the care they need conveniently with easier access to more providers, because they can choose from providers outside of their geographic area. And since patients don't have to travel to get to an appointment, they have better consistency of care with fewer missed appointments.
Telemedicine is also a help to the local providers as well. Some behavioral health problems are best treated in-person. When resources are limited, if some patients are treated through telemedicine, the local providers are more available to provide care to the patients who need in-person care the most.
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