SHERIDAN — The word “biotechnology” often conjures up images of science fiction novels, or at least mysterious genetically modified pets and plants to many non-scientists.
However, the word can also apply to the idea of using technology to facilitate established procedures and treatments. Case in point: psychological counseling via video teleconference.
Dr. Phil Hirsch has practiced psychology for more than 30 years and now serves as Chief Clinical Officer for HealthLinkNow, a company that specializes in offering online health care technology services. For Hirsch, biotechnology simply means using video teleconferencing to provide counseling to patients who could be hundreds of miles away.
Locally, the Healthy Lifestyle Clinic in Sheridan is the only venue to offer psychological therapy via Web conference. Family Nurse Practitioner Brenda Mosher said people are usually slow to accept the idea of Web-based counseling.
Upon initial consideration, the idea of contacting a professional counselor via Skype or FaceTime might seem like another impersonal substitute for actual human-to-human interaction.
“We call it the ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’ phenomenon when we begin talking to people about delivering any behavioral health service — whether it’s psychiatry, pharmacology, or whether its counseling or psychotherapy,” Hirsch said.
However, he said, that doesn’t last long before the real benefits become apparent.
“What we tend to see experientially is even people who are a little reluctant or a little bit skeptical, that you can establish the rapport necessary. That reluctance tends to go away within the first 30 or 45 minutes of the initial interview.”
Hirsch said more than 450 studies published in scientific journals attests to the efficacy of telemedicine for a psychology practice. Ultimately, the use of internet conferencing puts rural clients within reach of professionals who can give them the help they need.
“For people in communities like Sheridan, where there’s a less than full supply of menial health professionals, where somebody might have to travel and hour or two or three hours to see a psychiatrist in person, their satisfaction with the telepsychiatry modality is higher because they avoid the travel strain.”
Mosher added that using video conferencing may be the more attractive choice for a patient looking for privacy in a small town.
“Sometimes, people won’t go to counseling services because they know the counselor,” she said.”The may be on the same golf team or something and prefer not to go to someone they know socially. This allows the option of a little more anonymity.”
Hirsch was one of the speakers at the Forward Sheridan Biotech Conference hosted at Sheridan College last week