Over the past two decades, information and communication technology (ICT) in providing social and health services has become a priority in service delivery across the U.S. (Barak & Grohol, 2011; World Health Organization, 2015). The American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare drafted twelve grand challenges for social workers to focus on harnessing technology for social good as a challenge (Berzin, Singer, & Chan, 2015). However, social workers and scholars have remained hesitant to embrace the movement in practice and education entirely. The Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) maintain that the increased use of technology in social work must be a focus in social work practice and education. Telemental health (TMH) practice involves the application of ICT aimed to provide mental and behavioral health services via video-conferencing technology. TMH care can provide useful and adaptable solutions to the care of mental illnesses. While being comparable to in-person services, TMH care is particularly advantageous and inexpensive using current technologies and versatile designs, especially in isolated communities. Researchers suggest that TMH has shown promising benefits in increasing access to care to multiple populations within the mental health system (Hilty et al., 2013; Nieves & Parmar, 2014; Marcin, Rimsza, & Moskowitz, 2015). TMH can also provide more care to populations that have limited access to competent providers. With the use of TMH is on the rise, it is essential to focus on the education and training of social work students to meet the needs of the profession. The current study aimed to examine the knowledge and attitudes of social work students on the use of telemental health in social work education.
Using the standards of technology for social work as a framework and the diffusion of innovation theory, 76 students at a public institution in the Northeast part of the United States were surveyed to determine if their knowledge and attitudes towards telemental health in the social work education curriculum were in line with the stances of the CSWE and NASW on the inclusion of technology in social work education. Additionally, the diffusion of innovation theory was applied to explore the level of potential adoption of the use of telemental health for student’s post-graduation.
Results suggest that students have above adequate knowledge about telemental health and would like to see more structured education on telemental health technology. Nearly all (90%) of the student’s responses suggested that if properly educated, they would be early adopters or innovators of the telemental health technology in practice. Implications for social work education and future research directions will be discussed. It is important to understand student perceptions to help shape social work education and practice innovations.