Mar 16, 2021 - Health

Virtual mental health visits skyrocket during pandemic

Fold-change in behavioral health telehealth visits in 2019 vs. 2020

Virtual behavioral health visits in the first half of 2020 were hundreds of times higher than the year before, according to a new analysis by Well Being Trust and Milliman.

The big picture: The number of total behavioral health visits — both in person and virtual — were generally within 20% of 2019 levels from January to August, even though in-person visits plunged.

  • The dramatic rise in behavioral telehealth helped people continue to receive care while staying at home, an option that people needing other forms of medical care often didn't have.

Between the lines: Numerous studies have raised the alarm about the pandemic's impact on American's mental health.

  • "It is not clear whether the use of behavioral health services has risen sufficiently to match increased needs created by the pandemic," the paper warns.

By the numbers: Before 2020, 1% or less of behavioral health professional visits were virtual.

  • Last year, as much as 75% of behavioral health visits among the commercially insured were virtual in May and June. Nearly half of Medicare beneficiaries' behavioral health visits were provided via telehealth in April through July.
  • But Medicaid beneficiaries saw lower adoption rates and continued to receive in-person care more than than people with commercial insurance or Medicare.
  • This highlights "potential challenges with access to telehealth visits or technology for this group," the authors write.
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