June 02, 2011
By Cori Ast
By age 18, one in five American children will have a diagnosable mental health condition and millions more will have be in situations where they could have benefitted from mental health counseling. With 99 of 105 Kansas counties designated as mental health professional shortage areas, only a handful of these children might receive necessary treatment.
School of Medicine researchers such as Eve-Lynn Nelson, PhD, are finding ways to change that. Dr. Nelson, an associate professor of pediatrics, is one of three School of Medicine psychologists providing regular pediatric mental health services via video conference to Kansas children, a practice known as telemedicine.
"Without telemedicine, many Kansas kids might not receive necessary mental health treatment, and an untreated mental health condition affects every aspect of a child's life," Nelson explained.
Due to a shortage of licensed child psychologists, a Kansas child could wait six months for an in-person visit. However, a child seen through telemedicine could begin treatment within a month. In addition to quicker access, other benefits of pediatric behavioral telepsychology include the ability to get additional information from school officials and reduced travel time for the patient.
With appropriate technology and training, a telemedicine visit is no different from a face-to-face visit. "Successful treatment depends on relationship building, which is no more challenging in telemedicine than in person," said Dr. Nelson. "We are still able to forge close doctor-patient relationships even though we are often communicating over long distances."
Dr. Nelson and Susan Sharp, DO, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, are studying the use of a team-based approach in treating youth who have signs of depression. Their research also includes a provision for training providers in telemental health.