The necessary social distancing measures following the COVID-19 pandemic is causing an uptick in the use of telehealth services as healthcare providers treat many patients virtually to halt the spread of the deadly and highly contagious virus.

The same holds for individuals who need mental health services. Derek Hubbard, director of the Appalachian Telemental Health Network, said he has seen a 600 percent jump since the COVID-19 crisis.

“The state of Virginia has tasked us to increase access to mental health services to the residents of Southwest Virginia and far Southwest Virginia,” Hubbard said.

ATHN, housed at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, operates a software platform with Adaptive Telehealth. The network is basically a set of online solutions sponsored by Virginia and other partners to serve the commonwealth’s mental and behavioral health providers by including everything a Virginia-licensed provider needs to provide HIPAA-secure mental and behavioral health services.

Hubbard said ATHN touches many organizations and includes licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, counselors, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and addiction counselors. Services are provided through a HIPAA-secure online platform where patients can obtain services from either their local primary care office or their own home.

“The project began in October 2018 with the first project year being utilized for our software platform development with Adaptive Telehealth,” Hubbard said. “Our software platform has been up and running since December 2019, and we are experiencing an increase in patients requesting services since a lot of patients aren’t able to be seen in the office. Our program works with patients looking for mental health services via telehealth and the mental health providers throughout the state.”

ATHN is funded by the Virginia General Assembly to establish a behavioral/mental health network to the underserved Appalachian counties of Virginia via telehealth. It works in collaboration with the University of Virginia Center for Telehealth in Charlottesville, Virginia to connect the primary care physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants of Appalachia to the appropriate resources for their patients.

“Through the advanced technologies of telehealth, patients can connect with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and counselors not just at UVA but throughout the state in order to receive behavioral and mental health services,” Hubbard said.

Although the program has specific areas of Virginia to serve patients, it is also recruiting providers all over the state to be part of the program.

“Currently, we are still recruiting patients to participate as referrals and continually recruiting mental health clinicians to provide these services as rendering providers,” Hubbard said.