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According to Inside Higher Ed, 85% of college students said they were experiencing increased stress and anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And 53% of first-year students reported a substantial increase in mental and emotional exhaustion. Colleges and universities added virtual counseling to their mental health resources in response to the increased need for services. But the question is, how do college students feel about using virtual healthcare?
The growth of virtual health care in higher education
Ten percent of colleges offered virtual mental health services in 2016, compared to 59% in 2018. The rate of virtual mental health treatment among college students increased from 19% in 2007 to 34% in 2017. From the statistics, it’s clear that telehealth and virtual care options helped address the growing public health need for mental health services on college campuses.
In an annual systematic review published by the Association for the University and College Counseling Center Directors (AUCCCD), over half of college directors reported that they needed more psychiatry clinician services and consultations than they currently had available to meet the needs of all student demographics. And, university presidents expressed the need for more tools providing an assessment of and coping strategies for mental health concerns among students.
Online platforms for medical and mental health services are quickly becoming the solution for expanding healthcare services—and with good reason. PubMed studies show that virtual health can effectively treat depression, anxiety, sleep, stress, alcohol use disorders, PTSD, and eating disorders in college and university students. It’s been used by undergraduate students through various platforms – including, but not limited to phone apps, online modules, and text messaging.
Since the coronavirus disease started to impact the world in December 2019, virtual health and well-being solutions have been especially important, given school closures and the shift to online learning, social distancing, and the risks of in-person visits. The COVID-19 outbreak caused a rapid shift toward telehealth— despite problematic government licensing restrictions for medical providers, healthcare professionals, psychologists, and psychiatrists in providing medical care and psychotherapy across state lines.
According to an Active Minds meta-analysis of 2,086 college students, 80% of college students reported that COVID-19 negatively affected their mental health, and 85% said they had difficulty focusing on school and work. Fifty-five percent of students reported that they wouldn’t know where to go if they or someone they knew with mental health issues needed professional mental health services right away.
Virtual mental health has the potential not only to deliver the care needed by college students during a global pandemic, but to also play a prominent role in serving college students in the future.
How virtual health care fills a gap in care for college students
Recent findings indicate students view telehealth and telemedicine services as a convenient and flexible alternative to face-to-face healthcare. It eliminates the concern students have about:
- Coordinating schedules for an appointment.
- Being on waitlists for days, weeks, or months for care.
- The need to travel to a clinic for care.
And college students who use telehealth services found virtual support to be consistently available at their convenience. Students who take advantage of virtual care options, students can benefit by avoiding costs for:
- Missed work
College students consistently register satisfaction with the usability of telehealth services. Over 90% of college students use the internet every day, and 86% of college students use a smartphone regularly for social media, e-learning, medical education, and other needs. Not surprisingly, students report the convenience, acceptability, and usability of mobile phone apps for mental health interventions, including those for mindfulness, drinking cessation, depression, health problems, and anxiety.
Student respondents across a variety of cross-sectional studies consistently describe a high level of satisfaction with telehealth services, including automated messaging platforms and self-directed therapy platforms. And, telehealth services offer opportunities for college students to avoid the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues. This is an obstacle, particularly for minority students, who are less likely than caucasian students to utilize mental health services from primary care professionals despite experiencing similar or elevated rates of markers of mental illness such as suicidality, suicide attempt, or self-harm.
Telehealth and virtual care services can also provide college students with a sense of ownership over their psychological struggles. Survey results confirm that higher education learners feel a sense of control over the pace of the intervention and appreciate the casual nature in which they can receive help compared to seeking help at a counseling center.
The benefits of telehealth are clear to students. It’s fast, easy, and efficient. All that’s needed is a phone or internet connection to connect to care. It eliminates wait times, reduces the stigma of seeking mental and medical care, and perhaps most importantly, is available the moment a student needs care – often in just minutes. When students don’t have to wait days or weeks for a counseling center or medical clinic appointment, there is a positive effect on campus health and well-being.
Meet students where they already are
Virtual health care’s impact on colleges and universities
The health of a college or university is directly related to the success of its students and the long-term viability of the institution. When care is easy and accessible, students are empowered to take control of their mental health and physical well-being. Here are five potential benefits telehealth can have on your campus:
1. Care 24/7/365
For campuses that already have healthcare services, telehealth and virtual care options provide 24/7/365 access that extends beyond business hours. “With 24/7 access to mental health resources, students can still access a supportive, knowledgeable provider even when the counseling center is closed,” said Dr. Jan Hall, TimelyCare director of curriculum development and complex manager. “At the end of the day, into the night, and even on weekends, students can receive emotional support for any need, including critical situations. The flexibility of virtual care enables students to get support anytime and anywhere, which is particularly beneficial if the student is not on campus.”
2. Increase care offerings to students
For the more than 20% of higher education institutions that don’t offer health services, telehealth and virtual care options can serve as the primary source of healthcare for students. If a student requires in-person care for student mental health care needs, a provider can refer the student to the appropriate facility based on the institution’s protocols.
3. Helps decrease overwhelmed in-person health care options
Telehealth and virtual care services accommodate surges in patient volume and can allow health centers to handle an influx by remotely accessing an expanded network of licensed, board-certified physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, licensed counselors, and behavioral health specialists.
4. Reduces, or eliminates, health care costs for students
Telehealth and virtual care solutions vary, but TimelyCare’s partnerships with colleges and universities enable students to access no-cost physical and mental health visits, which removes financial and/or insurance worries.
5. Cost-effective for higher education
As budgets get tighter, higher education decision-makers are looking at how to efficiently and effectively allocate resources. Virtual health and well-being solutions provide efficient, cost-effective access that optimizes existing healthcare resources to provide care for students when and where they need it.
With skyrocketing costs, regulatory changes, and evolving technology creating new challenges and opportunities for healthcare, consider virtual healthcare as a means to improve mental health support on your campus, while simultaneously reducing costs. A study of data collected from 650 telehealth patients confirms telehealth can expand care while reducing costs. The study is only the latest in a growing body of evidence that shows one of the value propositions of telehealth for students’ experience is a cost reduction in conjunction with simultaneous growth in patient access to needed care and support systems.
The impact of COVID-19 illuminated the efficacy of telehealth for learning environments and its important role in the well-being of college students. The Coker Group conducted a telehealth survey evaluating how healthcare organizations adopt, implement and utilize telehealth solutions. Results confirm that telehealth is essential for the short-term and long-term delivery of healthcare. Virtual care is a reliable, long-term solution to providing both medical and mental health care for your students—even beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
How to meet student demand for virtual health care
With its around-the-clock campus health and counseling center resources, TimelyCare provides complete clinical care, advanced technology and expert guidance to improve student physical and mental health. And TimelyCare’s higher education experience enables it to partner with all types of institutions – from public universities and community colleges to faith-based and medical schools. With licensed providers in all 50 states, and unlimited, no-cost telehealth options, there’s no hassle over the limitations of traditional health insurance.
TimelyCare simplifies student access to quality medical and mental health care. With a diverse network of health and wellness professionals, TimelyCare’s virtual health and well-being solution makes it easier for students to care for and receive a complete care experience. Contact us to learn how virtual care can support your students.