Technology as a Means to Address Disparities in Mental Health Research: A Guide to “Tele-Tailoring” Your Research Methods

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Abstract

We must include rural participants in health-related research if we are to address health-related disparities and inequity, particularly in mental health. However, the first step of the research process in person—witnessed, signed, informed consent—is often a limiting factor and insurmountable barrier to precisely the type of research (e.g., telehealth) designed to overcome barriers of geographic distance and travel time. Telehealth, or the provision of medical care or services to patients by means of audio/video and procedure-specific technology, addresses some barriers to health created by rurality by making health care professionals more accessible to patients. A logical complement to telehealth is “teleconsent.” Teleconsent can be defined as using remote, facial integrated identity verification to allow (a) remote guidance of participants through consent documents, and (b) digital signing by all parties, obviating the need for in-person signed consent. The ability to review and sign consent documents via telehealth with synchronous viewing is a novel, innovative means by which to overcome the initial significant barrier to recruitment of rural participants into health care research. By leveraging the growing capabilities of telehealth, teletailoring studies can improve the efficiency of research recruitment and facilitate the consent process for underrepresented populations in research. Strategies for implementation are clearly relevant to increasing the success of clinical trial recruitment.

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