Harvard University Health Services may refer students to remote counseling through a partnership with telemedicine company iHope Network.
The partnership comes after a pilot launch in the spring for students on Harvard's Longwood campus. iHope allows patients around the world to access to therapists during non-business hours by conducting sessions remotely over phone or video conferencing. While HUHS will sometimes refer students to iHope, interested students also have the option of contacting the company directly to set up an appointment.
Any person with the Student Health Insurance Plan can use iHope. Those on their parents’ insurance will have to check with their insurance provider to see if iHope is covered.
Although HUHS is referring students to iHope’s services, Chief of Counseling and Mental Health Services Barbara Lewis emphasized that HUHS’s regular counseling services were still available and that iHope was “probably not our first choice unless we have a student who potentially really needs to have someone in the evening and they haven't been able to find anyone locally.”
Steven Locke, Chief Medical Officer and co-founder of iHope Network, said he first had the idea to partner with Harvard about a year ago after reading an article about high rates of depression and suicidal ideation among medical students. Locke said he reached out to Dean for Medical Education Edward M. Hundert, who then introduced him to Paul J. Barriera, the director of HUHS.
“[Barreira] was very interested in what we were doing and so we met with him and had several meetings with him and the staff and the behavioral health leadership,” Locke said, “And that’s how we got started.”
Tom Hunter, Chief Executive Officer of iHope Network, said the service’s flexible scheduling and reliance on telecommunication technology offers several advantages to students. iHope offers counseling early in the morning and late at night, which “can be the difference between being able to see a therapist at all or not,” according to Hunter.
In the past, some students have called the process of waiting for an in-person mental health counseling session discouraging. iHope’s increased accessibility may present a solution to this problem.
“We want to make people aware of this as an option because for many people, getting to a brick and mortar office is difficult,” Hunter said.
Hunter also said that iHope allows students more privacy and increases accessibility for people with mobility issues because they do not have to leave their dorm room to receive counseling.
iHope also has partnerships with several other colleges in Massachusetts and is working to expand their reach.
Still, Lewis said that only a few Harvard students had been referred to iHope since the start of the semester.
“I think what's happening now and the reason why we haven't had as many referrals in these first few weeks of school is because students are opting to come in and see us or find someone in the community,” Lewis said.
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