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Introduction: While increasing evidence demonstrates equivalent effectiveness between telemedicine and direct patient care, little research has been done specifically on telemental health (TMH). TMH is the virtual delivery of healthcare and the exchange of healthcare information to provide mental health services to clients. This study focused on the perceptions of service providers (psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health workers) and clients receiving care.
- To establish the effectiveness of TMH as compared to direct patient care.
- To identify confounding factors affecting the effectiveness of TMH.
- To compare perceptions and barriers to TMH.
Method: Two sets of self-administered surveys were distributed to identified TMH service providers and clients using snowball sampling. Participation was voluntary, anonymous and de-identified. Five-point Likert scales were used to assess perceptions across domains of usefulness, effectiveness, ease of use, interaction quality, reliability and overall satisfaction, with safety being an additional domain for service providers. Information on barriers was also collected. Descriptive and inferential statistical analyses were conducted using Qualtrics software.
Results: TMH significantly improved access to mental health care. Among 37 service providers (SP) and 49 clients (CL) (n=86), more CL than SP favoured TMH. Most participants agreed that TMH is useful (SP 68.5%, CL 83.7%), effective (SP 59.9%, CL 74.9%), easy to use (SP 65.5%, CL 85.0%), satisfactory (SP 63.1%, CL 78.6%) and were willing to use TMH again (SP 78.4%, CL 75.5%). An unsuitable environment to carry out the session was a major barrier faced by most clients (39.2%). The survey uncovered several confounding factors that may have contributed to the perceived effectiveness of TMH.
Conclusion: Service providers and clients have different views on the effectiveness of TMH. While TMH may not be comparable to direct patient care, TMH services were met with high levels of satisfaction. TMH could, therefore, be considered as a supplement to mental health management.
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