Telehealth wasn’t new to COVID-19. The concept has been around for decades and applies differently to different areas of medicine. That being said, one of its most positive potential uses has been in the area of mental health, and in that regard, COVID-19 may have pushed us towards telehealth in a big way.
First, check out this USA Today article on the subject. This line stuck with me:
Prior to the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts received about 200 telehealth claims per day. That number reached up to 40,0000 claims per day from April to May 2020, and the insurer is still receiving about 30,000 claims per day almost a year later, according to spokesperson Amy McHugh.
The article also noted that ” mental health appointments made up about 53% of the 7.5 million telehealth claims processed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts since March 2020.”
This isn’t a surprise, and many of us have had experiences with it. I know I had numerous virtual appointments via telehealth over this pandemic, and I found it every bit as effective as an in-person visit. Maybe even more so – the flexibility that came with it was highly beneficial. I remember having a therapy appointment from my office in Harrisburg!
Of course, it’s not for everyone, but there is unquestionably good news in the area of telehealth. According to a 2020 article from the American Psychological Association, telehealth seems to be working so far. There are even some questions as to whether or not telehealth may be more effective for some groups that are typically less willing to visit a psychiatrists office – like men – as it allows them to get therapy without having to leave their house, thus reducing potential barriers and making it easier for them to overcome self-imposed stigma.
The USA Today article also noted that telehealth can make a therapist more efficient. Said one therapist, “I probably spend somewhere between 2 to 5 minutes per patient moving from one room to another or pausing to document or checking something on their file or handing something off. There are built-in inefficiencies that isn’t time spending with the person… but some of those inefficiencies are taken care of by the fact that everything is electronic.”
Obviously, COVID pushed us more this way as part of all of our efforts to socially distance. However, major challenges remain in terms of full utilization and effectiveness of telehealth services. First, telehealth is predicated on the idea that someone has the broadband infrastructure and necessary equipment. As this pandemic has shown, that is NOT the case for everyone, particularly among rural Americans or the urban poor. Lacking such equipment means that someone will not be able to get the help they need.
Furthermore, there are insurance barriers. Not all insurance companies cover telehealth, and while states of emergency have knocked down many of these barriers, they haven’t destroyed all. As such, insurance regulations need to be updated in many states. However, this presents a problem in and of itself. For example, in Pennsylvania, the issue has been tripped up due to attempts to limit telehealth services and prevent abortion services from being prescribed or conducted via telehealth. Don’t ask.
The point is this: Telehealth is great, but we’ve got a long way to go.
Let me conclude with this: Did you have a telehealth experience with COVID-19? What was it like? Did you find it to be as effective as an in-person visit? We’d love to hear from you – give us your comments below!