TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Banner University Medical Center hopes to expand its virtual program that gives people living in rural communities access to mental health services.
The healthcare provider said its TeleHealth program focusing on mental health has proven to be successful allowing doctors to reach patients completely online.
The program currently works with about five to six rural communities.
A team of psychiatrists meets with patients weekly via a web cam. The doctors are able to treat for conditions like depression and anxiety and can even prescribe medication if needed.
The doctor leading the program, Ole Thienhaus, said it’s been a huge success.
Thienhaus said without a virtual service like this, people living in these rural areas would either have to commute to bigger cities like Tucson or they wouldn’t get the help they needed at all.
That’s why Thienhaus hopes he can expand the program, meaning securing more partnerships with these communities – giving Banner the ability to hire more doctors.
He said the problem is that many of these rural areas don’t realize these types of services exist.
“Communities that are too far away for us to commute and are too small to support a psychiatrist or any other medical specialist, they now have access and I believe there are many that haven’t realized that and just think well it’s too bad this is who we are and nothing has changed, but it has changed,” he said.
He said eliminating in-person visits could help with a problem many traditional providers face – long wait times. The wait for people wanting to be seen by a mental health provider can be months.
Thienhaus said the program could potentially cut down on those wait times as many of the people coming from rural areas wouldn’t have to commute to traditional offices.
He added the program’s overall goal is to make sure people have access to mental health services regardless of where they live.