Study: Telemedicine Effective for Providing Talk Therapy to Vets

July 30, 2015 in News

Telemedicine can be just as effective as in-person visits for delivering talk therapy to older veterans with depression, according to a study published in The Lancet, Reuters reports.

Study Details

For the study, researchers divided more than 200 veterans over age 58, who were diagnosed with major depressive disorder into two groups.

Both groups received identical behavioral activation treatment in four to eight one-hour therapy sessions. However, one group received the therapy during in-person sessions, while the second group received care in their homes using video conferencing technology to connect remotely with therapists.

Patients’ progress was measured using questionnaires in which the veterans rated their symptoms. Later on, researchers also used structured clinical interviews to gauge progress.

According to Reuters, patients whose symptoms were reduced by at least half were considered to be responding to treatment (Kennedy, Reuters, 7/29).

The study was conducted between April 1, 2007, and July 31, 2011 (Egede et al., The Lancet, August 2015).

Study Findings

Overall, lead study author Leonard Egede said the talk therapy “works for depression whether you deliver it by face-to-face or [via] the telemedicine approach.”

Specifically, the study found that:

  • After one month, 5% to 7% of patients in the telemedicine group reduced their symptoms by half, compared with 15% on the in-person visit group;
  • After three months, 15% of telemedicine patients reduced their symptoms by half, compared with 19% of in-person visit patients;
  • After one year, 19% to 22% of telemedicine patients reduced their symptoms by half, compared with 19% to 21% of in-person patients; and
  • After one year, 39% of telemedicine patients reported no longer being depressed, compared with 46% of in-person patients.

Egede noted that telemedicine can be helpful for older individuals who face barriers to accessing mental health care, such as limited mobility, stigma and geographic location.

Editorial Raises Safety Concerns

In an accompanying editorial, Charles Hoge, a psychiatrist and senior scientist at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, said that therapy delivered via telemedicine could raise safety concerns because there are no professionals on site to help in the event of an emergency.

In an email to Reuters he noted that while telemedicine “can expand patients’ options for receiving needed mental health treatment,” the “most important consideration is ensuring that there are procedures in place to address emergencies, such as if a patient reports intent to commit suicide or homicide” (Reuters, 7/29).

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