Telehealth technologies involving telephone- or computer-based screening and treatment offer new ways to provide psychological services to people in rural settings, prisons and other such hard-to-reach places--but such technology-based interventions haven't been sufficiently studied for effectiveness or safety, says psychologist Anthony Pollitt, PhD, chief of rural mental health research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
To help spur such research, he and his colleagues in the Office of Rural Mental Health Research and the Office for Special Populations are urging collaboration between telehealth practitioners and university-based investigators.
At a meeting this past August in Memphis, Tenn.--planned in conjunction with a steering committee of telehealth researchers including psychologists Beth Hudnall-Stamm, PhD, of Idaho State University, Leigh Jerome, PhD, of Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, Robert Glueckauf, PhD, of the University of Florida, and Peter Yellowlees, PhD, of the University of Queensland--practitioners and researchers critiqued 25 participant proposals for "e-mental health" studies. They aimed to strengthen the proposals before the formal grant application process.
Telehealth experts also attended the meeting. Their input is particularly valuable, Pollitt says, because they contribute previously established research methods that apply not only to their work in traditional health care, but also to e-mental health.
Collaborative partnerships formed among meeting participants; in fact, three of the teams have submitted grant applications to NIMH, Pollitt notes.
"There's a lot of behavioral health-care being delivered to thousands of people around the country," Pollitt says. "We need to know about its effectiveness and quality so we can push forward implementation or revise our current methods."
Although NIMH hasn't allocated funding for e-mental health research specifically, Pollitt says interested researchers and practitioners should contact NIMH's Office of Rural Mental Health Research and submit concept papers before officially submitting grant applications for telehealth research. NIMH is particularly interested in effectiveness studies of individual treatments for disorders like depression and anxiety, he says.
"We might be doing a really good job treating some disorders over a long distance," Pollitt says. "But we just have no idea of how well it works for the range of diseases yet."