Telehealth for rural diverse populations: telebehavioral and cultural competencies, clinical outcomes and administrative approaches

Donald M. Hilty, Melanie T. Gentry, Alastair J. McKean, Kirsten E. Cowan, Russell F. Lim, Francis G. Lu


Rural health care settings are challenged to provide timely and evidence-based care, particularly for culturally diverse patients with behavioral health disorders. Telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health improve access to care and leverage scarce resources. This scoping review from January 2000 – July 2019 was conducted to see if the literature had data for two related the research questions, “What are the components of culturally competent, telepsychiatric clinical care, and what approaches have clinicians and systems taken to implement and evaluate it?” The review focused on key words in four concept areas: (I) competencies; (II) telehealth in the form of telepsychiatry, telebehavioral or telemental health; (III) culture; and (IV) health. It was done in accordance with the six-stage scoping review process in PubMed/Medline and other databases. The screeners reviewed the full-text articles for final inclusion based on inclusion (mesh of the key words) and exclusion (e.g., need for only, skills abstractly discussed) criteria. From a total of 1,118 papers, the authors found 44 eligible for full text review and found 7 papers directly relevant to the concepts. Few studies specifically discuss skills and competencies of both telehealth and cultural factors. Many organizations are attending to cultural competencies and approaches to care, but there are no specific competencies that integrate telepsychiatry or telebehavioral health with culture. Existing telepsychiatric (i.e., video, social media, mobile health) and one set telebehavioral health competencies included cultural component, including use of interpreters and language matters. Administrative adjustments are suggested to promote culturally competent care by telehealth via clinical, educational, quality improvement, program/system evaluation, and other (e.g., finance and reimbursement) interventions. More structured research is needed on development, implementation and evaluation of combined competencies in rural settings.