Texas A&M uses Telehealth to treat mental health in rural communities

COLLEGE STATION, Tex. (KBTX) - The medical community is using tele-health technology like video conferencing more and more to reach rural patients. Now, that's expanding to the area of mental health.

A group at Texas A&M says they are helping hundreds of people who previously would not have had access.

Dr. Carly McCord is the director of Texas A&M’s Telehealth Counseling Clinic, which offers a digital way to treat patients who live in rural areas.

"We see a wide variety,” said McCord, "everything from ‘my life isn't as happy and fulfilling as I’d like it to be' and 'I want to explore future directions of my life,' to more severe chronic conditions."

The free counseling sessions use doctoral students in psychology. So far, the clinic has seen more than 500 people in five counties.

Dr. Tim Elliott created the program.

"We enriched the training of our students and expand the reach of services,” Elliott said. “Our students now are able to graduate with unique experiences in providing telepsychology."

The technology is similar to Skype, Facetime and Google Hangout, but those video conferencing platforms aren't typically compliant with patient privacy laws. TCC's platform is compliant.

"We take many steps to ensure confidentiality,” said McCord. “I think confidentiality is the cornerstone of what makes counseling work."

It's that safety and ease that makes rural patients who wouldn't have access to counseling willing to share their life with TCC staff.

"Just to see those lives change, people go from barely surviving to thriving and back in the workforce," McCord said.

Telepsychology services reduced inpatient mental health care by 25 percent according to McCord, and although rates vary, it costs at least $400 per day to keep someone in an inpatient facility.

The TCC will host an open house Wednesday September 28 from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at the Milner Building on the Texas A&M campus.