There’s an interesting paradox when it comes to college students and their health. College students aren’t always known for leading the healthiest lifestyles (think: alcohol use, fast-food diet, sleep deprivation, stress, anxiety) and yet they’re among the least likely to seek professional care from a health care provider.
According to a study published by the American College Health Association in 2019, only about half of college students sought professional treatment for an illness over the course of one year. Considering how easily viruses and infections spread across tight-knit campuses, it’s likely the other half indeed got sick, they just didn’t see a doctor. What’s more, about a quarter of college students reported becoming so ill they dropped a class because of it.
Mental health concerns, in particular, are plaguing college students, who continue to grapple with the residual effects of COVID and endless societal pressures exacerbated by social media. A staggering 83 percent of college students say mental health challenges affected their performance one day or more in the last month, and more than half of students say they wouldn’t know where to go if they or someone they knew needed professional help.
It’s clear, students need access to health care, but they don’t often feel comfortable seeking it.
From alleviating perceived stigma to offering valuable scheduling flexibility, virtual health services are a convenient and accessible way for students to get the care they need. As students prepare to head home for winter break, now is a great time to consider the benefits of a robust telehealth program and how to implement one on your campus.
Why are students reluctant to take advantage of student health centers?
When it comes to health care, students are interested in one thing: convenience. The day-to-day schedule of a typical college student involves a full day of classes, a part-time job, extracurriculars, and social obligations, not to mention all the daily responsibilities that come with living independently (grocery shopping, cooking, doing laundry— the to-do list goes on) and finding what little time is left to exercise and practice self-care. Squeezing a doctor’s visit into a jam-packed schedule is going to be tough, which means it’s probably going to be deprioritized or avoided altogether.
Transportation to and from a visit is another barrier. Bad weather and sheer exhaustion can make a trek across campus less than desirable for students who already feel miserable.
There’s also the stigma attached to health concerns like anxiety, depression, and even STIs to consider. Mental illness, especially, carries a pervasive and dangerous stigma that frequently prevents college-aged adults from seeking treatment. In fact, 67 percent of people aged 18 to 24 with anxiety or depression say they don’t seek treatment. That reluctance makes it easy for students to fall through the cracks and miss out on crucial intervention for treatable concerns.
How does telehealth improve student access to care?
Telehealth combats nearly every barrier standing between college students and their health care. Convenience is inherent to virtual visits. They can be completed from the comfort of a dorm room, and because they eliminate the need for travel can be more readily slotted into a student’s busy schedule. Attending a telehealth appointment is also more discreet than visiting a health center in person, which is especially appealing to students who are seeking medical treatment for mental health. Telehealth eliminates the possibility that a student might recognize one of their classmates from a counseling center waiting room, and vice versa.
Virtual mental health care has been a tremendous benefit to students at Ohio’s Wright State University, which offers Togetherall, a peer-to-peer online platform that allows students to post about what is going on in their lives and receive advice or encouragement from others. The anonymous platform is monitored by mental health professionals but provides a space for students to express themselves without judgment.
By offering health care virtually, college and university administrations meet students where they are in terms of their comfort levels and personal preferences, and empower them to get the care they need.
How can telehealth improve the campus experience overall?
Telehealth makes it easier and more convenient for students to get the care they need. They can schedule appointments to fit their schedule, see a provider from the comfort of their own home, and get back to class or homework more quickly than if they had to travel to an office—all factors that make students more likely to seek medical attention for an illness, health concern, or even preventative care. This, in turn, makes students healthier—physically, mentally and emotionally. And when students are healthier, they’re more likely to be happier, perform better academically, and enjoy a more positive college experience overall.
How can your administration encourage students to take advantage of telehealth options on campus?
When it comes to ensuring students are taking advantage of the health benefits available to them on campus, the best place to start is often with education. Health insurance can be tricky to navigate, especially for a population of young adults who are still adjusting to their newfound independence. Make sure they understand their benefits and how to use them by educating them in ways they’ll respond to, such as through gamification, apps, or other interactive tools. For more tips, download our “eGuide to a Robust Student Health Insurance Plan.”
An experienced partner like HORAN Campus Health can help your team implement or improve a telehealth program on your campus and develop strategies for educating students on the benefits of virtual health care.
At HORAN Campus Health, we champion bold innovations and offer customized health plans, resources, and tools designed to improve the overall health and wellbeing of your students. Together, we can offer the holistic support students need to thrive on campus and succeed in life.
Do you need help developing and executing a strategy to improve student health and wellness on your campus? Visit our Campus Health webpage to fill out a simple contact form or get in touch with Chris Mihin, HORAN Campus Health Vice President and Managing Principal, at ChrisM@horanassoc.com or 513-702-3707.