Providing behavioral health services via telemedicine

By Myrta N. Sifonte, MD Medical Evaluation Board Provider Rodriguez Army Health ClinicOctober 19, 2020

Decades ago, Albert Einstein said,

“In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity.”

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a host of opportunities, but perhaps none as groundbreaking as the widespread use of telemedicine. Rodriguez Army Health Clinic has been no exception to this trend.

Even though the Behavioral Health Section at RAHC had used telemedicine in the past, its use was limited as, culturally, patients favoured in-person care. However, for the last several months, telemedicine has proven a lifeline, giving patients access to health care without increasing their risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus. It has provided a bridge to connect health care providers to patients amid stay-at-home orders.

Records show that since March 2020, behavioral health access and assessment have been used at higher rates. By using telemedicine, we have been able to maintain access to care even during these challenging times.

Although tele-behavioral health has certainly improved the patients’ access and efficiency in our clinic, it still carries its own drawbacks.

Some of the challenges we have experienced at RACH include, but are not limited to, technological shortcomings. Occasionally, technology is not reliable, the picture may freeze or stutter, sound may cut out, or the call may be dropped entirely. Also, we have noticed that the tech-literacy or access to technology of our patients varies, creating additional barriers to the provision of care.

Patient education has been of utmost importance. Our providers have been working to ensure they are providing services when service members are best available for care.

Another significant challenge has been creating a balanced therapeutic telemedicine environment. Patients’ homes are sometimes filled with different distractions and privacy is not always ensured. Finally, if the need for behavioral health services among our population continues to rise, we will have to consider the addition of another behavioral health provider to our ranks.

Preparation, patience and practice combined with resiliency have helped to implement a more widespread use of telemedicine to deal with the challenges imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

RAHC plans to continue using telemedicine as another clinical tool to complement and enhance traditional in-person care. Nonetheless, it is our belief that telemedicine can never fully replace the gold standard: in-person care.

As stated in our mission, RAHC is committed to ensure our beneficiaries continue to receive high-quality, patient-centered health care and deliver military readiness while inspiring hope and wellness to every patient on our community.

Our priorities continue to be taking care of people in a safe environment while ensuring access to care and medical readiness.

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ASCII (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL


Dr. Sonia Hernandez participates in a telemedicine session from her cell phone July 27. From a recent patient survey: “Dr. Sonia Hernandez continues to do a superb job supporting my behavioral health] needs at the Rodriguez Army Health Clinic. During these challenging and difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Hernandez has been there for me and my treatment has not been interrupted. She listens very carefully and I know I can always count on her expert advice and recommendations. She is awesome! I strongly recommend that Dr. Hernandez be recognized for her superior customer service support.” (Photo by Alexander Marrero)