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Understanding the Implementation of Telemental Health in Rural Mississippi: An Exploratory Study of Using Technology to Improve Health Outcomes in Impoverished Communities

Author: JOSEPH “JODY” HOLLAND, WILLIAM HATCHER and WESLEY L. MEARES
Published in JHHSA, Vol. 41 No. 1

Residents in rural communities often lack access to affordable mental healthcare, which is a significant policy problem. Access to health care is also a major concern for the sustainability of rural communities. Telemental Health (TMH) is the provision of mental health services from a distance by using communication and Internet- based technologies. Our research examines the efficacy of TMH as an administrative tool to provide rural mental health service, to improve the mental health of rural patients, and to advance the sustainability of rural communities. The project was made possible by a grant from the Intelligent Community Institute at Mississippi State University, with the purpose of examining approaches to build prosperous, inclusive, sustainable intelligent rural communities. Given that the administrative features of TMH is an understudied topic, we implemented an exploratory research design to gather foundational knowledge for future work. We conducted semi-structured interviews with subjects working at Community Mental Health Centers (CMHC) in Mississippi. We found that rural providers hold negative and positive opinions of TMH. The interviewees argued that TMH increases access to mental health professionals, and they noted how patients were mostly pleased with the care provided by TMH. However, providers noted a lack of clinical procedures for TMH, less of a rapport between counselor and patient, and an increase in costs of care.

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