Despite the growing number of telehealth patients, many people remain confused about or suspicious of the idea of receiving healthcare online via video call. We recently spoke with Dr. Diego Garza, who is the Director of telehealth at MindPath Care Centers, PLLC, to learn more about what Telehealth has to offer.
Dr. Garza has a Masters in Public Health from UNC-CH, is a Medical Doctor working as a primary care physician, and is currently an instructor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. He began our conversation by giving me some definitions. “telehealth” simply refers to “the use of tech to increase health care services.” “telemedicine,” more specifically, involves the use of tech to actually be seen by a provider.
“At MindPath Care Centers,” Dr. Garza explained, “we see patients. We offer online therapy & medication management services. Thirty providers are available Monday through Saturday and, more than likely, someone will always to be available to help. You don’t have to wait— you can be seen by someone more quickly.”
One requirement of MindPath Care Centers’ telehealth series is that you access it using online video technology. Online therapy and medication management work because the provider can still see you, and is therefore able to assess and treat you properly.
Dr. Garza explained that online therapy is particularly helpful in alleviating the negative effects of mental health stigma, since a client doesn’t have to leave their house and no one has to know that they’re receiving treatment. For the people who worry about being treated differently because of their mental illness, this extra level of privacy can have hugely positive effects. For others, online therapy is helpful because it reduces transportation stress and time. MindPath Care Centers is “running the biggest telehealth program in NC,” which especially helps people in rural areas who wouldn’t get access to care otherwise. Interestingly, Dr. Garza has noticed that the patients who often benefit most from these online services are not as young as you may think, given the utilization of all this new video tech. This goes back to the stigma point: while a lot of mental health discussion focuses on issues relating to a younger population, such as academic stress or peer pressure, the population of 40-60 year olds are having a lot of problems that are often overlooked. “The culture in NC for that age group is not very inclusive,” Dr. Garza said. According to the CDC, the age group most affected by mental health stigma is 40+. Because of this, Dr. Garza and his colleagues feel that telehealth is an excellent way for older patients to access the care they need, judgement-free.
Dr. Garza also discussed the way MindPath Care Centers works to tailor the mental health program to the people they are treating, since each population has different cultural arrangements. For example, Garza, who is Mexican, said, “If you go into a Latino community, the populations in NC tend to live in conservative areas and still experience the same stigma and backlash around mental health that is often found in Mexico.” He explained that for many in Mexican culture, mental illness is a sign of weakness within the machismo paradigm. Men in the family are the ones who get to decide whether or not others in the family can receive mental healthcare. Using his MPH, Dr. Garza works these NC communities to help fathers understand why mental health is important for their families. “We don’t need the father to be the actual patient, but are aiming to have fathers understand mental health enough so that they will allow their families to use [the mental health services].” This is another way that Dr. Garza works to increase mental healthcare access to rural areas in NC, which has been made far, far easier with the convenience of telehealth.
He ended our conversation by noting that, “we need to increase education around mental health care, and this needs to start at elementary school age. We need to make mental health an issue that is treated the same as a physical illness in terms of how people think about it.” Far from being suspicious of technology, we must embrace the democratizing aspects of technology that have allowed for so many more people to access the information and care that they need to survive.