The integration of remote group therapy as a post-pandemic option has been apositive development in the field of mental health services. This approach has been particularly important in addressing the increased demand for mental health services as exemplified by Geisinger’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health and Harbor Care Health and Wellness Center. These entities have successfully implemented telemedicine to ensure ongoing access to mental health care, a necessity that was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic where in person services were not as readily available.
Geisinger’s transition to virtual group therapy is a response to the growing need for adult psychotherapy services. With extended wait times and a backlog of service requests before the pandemic, the shift to over 80% outpatient telemedicine services was a strategic response aimed at ensuring continuity of service during the pandemic, as most in-person services were suspended. This method provided a secure and efficient way to conduct therapy sessions, also leading to an increase in service capacity. Through Microsoft Bookings for Groups, Geisinger offered secure scheduling, which is necessary to maintain patient confidentiality. As a result, nearly all group therapies were successfully transitioned to a virtual format, including high-acuity programs. This transformation resulted in reduced wait times and enhanced accessibility, enabling the accommodation of new patients within a week compared to several months for individual therapy sessions.
The integration of over 70 new providers through telemedicine expanded Geisinger’s capacity to deliver mental health services. This was especially beneficial for their rural service area, where in-person therapy was difficult due to travel constraints. The virtual format increased therapy accessibility and provided a variety of session timings, offering patients greater flexibility. Harbor Care Health and Wellness Center, catering to a population at risk of homelessness, faced challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. The stress on their technology infrastructure and the transience of their patient population necessitated swift adoption of telemedicine solutions. To support the increased use of telehealth services, Harbor Care Health upgraded their network infrastructure and integrated contemporary communication systems for a sophisticated telehealth experience. In 2021, the center conducted over 15,000 virtual visits, a large increase from the pre-pandemic era. This shift helped both the center to continue providing high-quality care, and increase access to healthcare services for a vulnerable population. The FCC telehealth award funds were important in enhancing Harbor Care Health’s telehealth capabilities, further supporting their healthcare delivery.
The experiences of Geisinger and Harbor Care Health illustrate the effectiveness of remote group therapy in a post-pandemic healthcare environment. The two cases offer valuable insights for healthcare leaders by demonstrating the potential of virtual group therapy in efficiently meeting patient needs, mostly in crisis situations. These examples show the importance of continuing to support and adopt telemedicine in group therapy settings to ensure accessibility, flexibility, and quality care for those requiring mental health services.