Culturally sensitive telehealth helps put hesitant patients at ease

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital may have found the next frontier for telehealth--culturally sensitive telehealth protocols.

Proposing a new 120-patient clinical trial, researchers are projecting that using telemedicine in a culturally sensitive collaborative treatment (CSCT) model will improve patient responsiveness, and possibly even increase their use of health services, according to the study proposal. The new trial would test the use of telemedicine and CSCT together in mental health services for Chinese-American patients, with the study to be published in the journal BMC Psychiatry.

Researchers point out that Chinese Americans respond better to a CSCT approach in primary care settings, and may be more open to a linguistically and culturally specialized telehealth protocol. The hope is that visits provided in their native language, and with providers who understand their fears of stigmatization within their culture, will encourage patients to acknowledge their condition and participate in treatment, researchers explain.

Patients in the trial would receive an initial in-person visit with a bilingual care manager, who will explain the trial protocol. From there, they'll participate in one tele-psych visit--using the CSCT--and then be monitored by the care manager with eight scheduled phone visits.

Care managers may prove key to the process, researchers say, helping Chinese-American patients navigate a complex mental healthcare system. They note that telehealth visits may make it easier for patients to access a provider who speaks their native language, if none are available in their immediate area.

"If successful, the T-CSCT model has the potential to become the prototype for telemedicine-based multilingual mental health resource centers across the country, providing services to other underserved minority populations and ultimately reducing disparities in mental health treatment," the study authors say. Ostensibly, the findings may support a similar approach to patients of other ethnicities, such as Hispanics, who also tend to underutilize healthcare services.

To learn more:
- read the BMC Psychiatry study abstract (.pdf)