HIV Specialist - March 2021 - 35

 TELEHEALTH
HIV Healthcare Workers and their Patients During the COVID-19 Pandemic

has needed to move to virtual platforms to ensure access to the large
number of care team members and patients who might benefit. The now
ubiquitous Zoom platform has become home to scientific conferences,
informational webinars, workshops and small group-break-out sessions,
individual and group therapy and telemedicine encounters. Moving
these efforts to virtual platforms has met with both successes and
failures, and an enormous investment in training healthcare teams to
use these platforms has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Arguably, among the most challenging of services to deliver virtually are
mental health and substance use assessment and treatment.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Providing
Behavioral Health Services Using Virtual Platforms
As part of a NIMH-funded study of behavioral health (BH) integration
into HIV care that was ongoing when COVID-19 emerged, we asked
HIV care team members to tell us how they had shifted their work from
in-person to virtual as a result of the pandemic. Among the 22 respondents to those key informant interviews were clinic or CBO directors,
medical providers, BH providers, and community health workers.

The following were listed as
advantages to using virtual platforms:
■	 Working virtually makes integration efforts easier, as BH specialists
and HIV care providers now coordinate via virtual meetings, as
opposed to needing to occupy the same physical space.
■	 There are fewer missed appointments since providing all BH services
virtually (as well as some medical services). This can help alleviate
travel/time burdens on patients who are already engaged in care.
■	 Following the beginning of the pandemic, our care went entirely
virtual, and we began instituting bi-monthly case conferences
where the care teams could discuss especially difficult cases.
Medical providers and licensed psychiatrists attended these
conferences, allowing for more integrated planning about how to
best meet the needs of each shared case.
■	 Most HIV care services continued in-person (We limited the
number of patients who accessed the building at one time.), while
mental health services were provided via telehealth, and this
seemed to work well.

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HIV Specialist - March 2021

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