College counseling centers face a number of challenges in meeting the growing demands and needs of today’s student population. Between balancing rising needs for mental health services, high rates of staff turnover and burnout, and addressing scheduling and access challenges, many counseling centers have begun to leverage telehealth counseling services to lessen the burdens and meet growing demand.
A growing body of research has demonstrated that telehealth counseling services have a positive impact on mental health, are perceived positively by patients, and improve access to mental health care. In fact, one study of campus-based telehealth counseling services showed that students found telehealth services to be convenient, effective, and similar or better in quality compared to in-person counseling.
How can counseling centers examine the value and impact of telehealth services on their own campuses? One of the best ways to measure impact is to look at data that you’re already collecting, such as session attendance rates and wait times to see a provider.
Here are numerous ways to measure the success of telehealth counseling services.
You can examine several different metrics that capture the student experience and determine the effectiveness of telehealth services on student well-being. These include:
- Increased attendance and retention rates – How many students attend their first appointment and then return for a second appointment? How many students cancel or no-show for their appointments? This information often reflects a students’ experience with those services. One factor to keep in mind is availability of providers. If you don’t have enough sessions available or if the student has to wait more than a week to access them, then that can impact the return rate.
- Decreased mental health ratings on clinical scores – Telehealth providers should administer intake questionnaires and screenings, such as the PHQ-9 or the GAD-7, to capture student mental health, and monitor changes in condition, improvement in symptoms, and success of treatment.
- Improved student satisfaction – Surveying students is a beneficial way to measure their satisfaction with treatment. These surveys can capture if a student is satisfied with their designated provider, if they are satisfied with the service offerings, and if they feel their treatment is improving their academic performance or simply their day-to-day life.
Counseling service metrics
College counseling centers can capture important metrics relating to service access, scheduling, and communication. All of these factors play a vital role in the quality of care. Here’s what you can evaluate:
- Shortened wait times – It’s not uncommon for students to wait multiple weeks to be seen by a provider, especially at a small, private school or on a remote campus where there are a limited number of providers. Adding a telehealth service, with additional clinical providers, can help shorten these wait times and improve a student’s access to care.
- Quality platform use – Is the platform easy for students, providers, and administrators to use? Is the platform free of technical issues? Is it updated frequently to account for changes in user needs? Does the platform follow HIPAA and FERPA regulations? With a high-quality platform, you can reduce the administrative burden on clinicians and put the patient’s experience first, which improves their engagement and usage in care.
- Efficient communication – How quickly is information communicated between in-person and telehealth clinical providers? How quickly are students able to communicate with telehealth providers between sessions? With the right provider, you should receive additional support and ongoing reporting so you can track client progress.
Successful mental health services can result from a successful provider and patient relationship. When looking at telehealth services, consider the following factors:
- Increased staff retention – Staff turnover is an ongoing problem across the country, but especially in college counseling centers. Turnover is costly, decreases access to care, and increases the workload for remaining staff. Retaining staff isn’t always possible, but you can work with a telehealth provider that has a dedicated and reliable provider group.
- Decreased provider stress and burnout – The COVID-19 pandemic increased clinician stress and burnout, putting more strain on counseling centers. Use surveys to evaluate staff satisfaction – which often correlates to patient satisfaction. Mantra Health, for example, uses Net Promoter Score (NPS) scores to ensure that providers are satisfied and supported with the right resources, tools, and compensation.
- Decreased provider caseload – Track how many clients a counselor is providing. If college counselors are seeing more than 30 clients per week, then you need to consider ways to reduce this. Telehealth services can help decrease the caseload managed by campus clinical staff, which inevitably reduces their stress and allows them to provide better in-session and frequent quality service to students.
When assessing telehealth services, evaluate the greater impact of mental health care on the student body. Here are some factors to consider:
- Reduced dropout rates – College students are most likely to drop out sometime before their sophomore year. In that first year, students may experience isolation, financial strain, and other stressors, directly impacting their mental wellness. Securing more mental health services can prevent students from dropping out, improving student retention rate.
- Improved net revenue – Recruiting students is a costly business and institutions can’t afford to lose tuition rates year after year. Investing in mental health is an investment in student satisfaction and success on campus. Track student retention rates in relation to increased telehealth services and the number of students receiving care.
At Mantra Health, we’re dedicated to improving young adult mental health by increasing access to therapy, psychiatry, and 24/7 behavioral health services. We have employed our own staff of clinical providers, all of whom are trained in young adult mental health care and have specialized expertise, and we partner with colleges and universities to improve the health of a campus and the lives of the students. Learn more about our services here.