According to the National Institutes of Health, telehealth services have been around since the 1920s using the limited technologies of their time. A century later, virtual care has become commonplace thanks to the global pandemic… and it is here to stay, especially for mental health services.
A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that in the first three months of 2020, telehealth usage grew 154% over the same period in 2019. While much of the initial surge was related to COVID-19 (contagion, social distancing, staffing shortages, etc.), 93% of telehealth patients sought care for conditions other than COVID-19 during the 2020 study period.
Clearly patients appreciate the convenience and benefits of telehealth for a multitude of services. What about practitioners? How do they perceive the value of telehealth as a way to deliver care?
The Journal of the American Medical Association surveyed mental health, primary care, and specialty care providers to learn more about their experience. Questions covered telehealth quality and ease of use as well as the proportion of care delivered via phone, video, and in-person visits.
At the time of the survey, mental health practitioners had significantly more telehealth encounters (40.3%) than other types of providers, likely because “telehealth was being used for MH (mental health) care well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Survey results show that mental health practitioners:
- Prefer video visits over phone visits for remote care by as much as 86.4%
- Rate the quality of video visits as equivalent to (up to 50.1%) or better than (up to 41.7%) in-patient visits for both new and established patients
- Report fewer challenges to delivering phone and video care (5.6%—26%) compared to primary care (7.6%—9%%) and specialty care (13.7%—63.8%) providers
While efforts are being made to reduce barriers to telehealth in general, employers can take action now by including coverage for free remote behavioral health services in their employee health plan, thus removing a financial barrier to seeking this important care and improving employee satisfaction.