Indian J Psychol Med. 2020 Nov 1;42(5 Suppl):57S-62S. doi: 10.1177/0253717620963202. eCollection 2020 Oct.
The COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted the usual mechanisms of healthcare delivery and exacerbated symptoms of mental illnesses. Telemedicine has morphed from niche service to essential platform, with newly released guidelines that cover various aspects of tele-mental health delivery. Rehabilitation services, which incorporate a range of psychosocial interventions and liaison services, have been significantly impacted too. They are currently more institute-based than community-based in India. However, recent legislation has mandated that community-based rehabilitation options be available. While a large treatment gap for mental health issues has always existed, telemedicine provides an opportunity to scale services up to minimize this gap. Community-based rehabilitation can be delivered over various platforms, from text to phone to videoconferencing, and various devices. Telemedicine is cost-effective, and enables delivery of services where existing services are inadequate. The recent guidelines allow other healthcare workers to be involved in mental health service delivery. Hence, in addition to direct delivery of services, telerehabilitation can facilitate task-shifting, with mental health professionals mentoring and supervising existing human resources, such as ASHA workers, VRWs, DMHP programme staff, and others. Tele-rehabilitation also poses challenges – not all needs can be met; access and privacy can be a problem in resource-scarce settings; liaison with existing services is required; and organisations need to plan appropriately and re-allocate resources. Digital access to welfare benefits and interventions must be expanded without disadvantaging those without internet access. Yet, many rehabilitation interventions can be adapted to telemedicine platforms smoothly, and task-shifting can broaden access to care for persons with disability.