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Reports consistently show that many people want to continue the option of having telehealth visits even after the pandemic. This article summarizes two studies that describe the demand for telemental health, otherwise referred to as teletherapy or telebehavioral health. While telemental health and teletherapy are often used interchangeably, telebehavioral health stands on its own as a term used to refer to the telehealth delivery of either mental health or substance use services.
The Evernorth Telemental Health Study
Evernorth, Cigna’s health services portfolio partnered with Ispos, an established, trusted survey company, in the fourth quarter of 2021 to conduct a nationwide study. The study consisted of over 3000 healthcare consumers with employer-sponsored health insurance, 575 Human Resources decision-makers (HRDMs), and 58 health plan leaders (HPL). Results showed that comfort levels with telebehavioral health platforms are high:
- 57% of consumers report using telebehavioral health platforms over the last 12 months. 17% of consumers seek telemental health counseling or teletherapy, up from 11%.
- 45% of Baby Boomers are comfortable with app-based telemental health and in-person visits. 7% are more comfortable with telehealth visits.
- 55% of Generation X participants were equally comfortable with in-person and telehealth visits, while 15% said they were more comfortable with virtual formats.
- 28% of Millennials said they were more comfortable with telehealth visits, while 56% said they were equally comfortable with telemental health and in-person visits.
- 55% of consumers would prefer video calls as the telehealth visit, followed by phone calls at 22%. Only 14% prefer mobile apps, and 9% identified text messages as their digital care solution of choice.
- 16% of consumers request more mental healthcare services.
- 84% of consumers believe they should be able to “shop” for providers (i.e., reviews, qualifications).
The reasons people most commonly gave for preferring teletherapy are the ability to remain in their homes, the ease of attending sessions from anywhere, and lower costs.
The Kaiser Telebehavioral Health Study
The extensive second study was conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Kaiser Health News. Using the term “telebehavioral health” rather than “telemental health,” the study looked at outpatient visits during five six-month periods between March 2019 and August 2021. It used data from Cosmos, a HIPAA-defined limited data set of more than 126 million patients from over 156 Epic organizations, including 889 hospitals and 19,420 clinics across all 50 states.
By March-August 2021, 39% of telehealth outpatient visits were primarily for mental health or substance use diagnosis compared to 24% a year earlier and 11% two years earlier. This Kaiser telebehavioral health study showed that 36% of all mental health and substance use treatments were conducted through telebehavioral visits.
- Before the pandemic, only 1% of patients and clients received teletherapy in the United States. That number rose to 40% of patients and clients receiving mental health outpatient visits and 11% of other types of visits at the height of the pandemic between March and August of 2020.
- Telemental health services were accessed in more significant numbers by people living in rural areas 55% compared to 35% in urban areas.
- Non-elderly patients and clients are more likely to count on telemental and telebehavioral health services. Results of the study show that 62% of all people who use telehealth visits for mental healthcare are between ages 19 and 64. Telemental health platforms have become essential tools in combating the mental health epidemic.
With President Biden talking about expanding virtual mental health access options in his first State of the Union address on March 1, 2022, it is reasonable to assume that efforts to meet the telehealth demand options will continue on their trajectory to provide timely treatment for people in need. Whether the service is called telehealth, telemental health, telebehavioral health, or teletherapy, consumers in large numbers want to benefit from the improved mental health access available through digital health tools today.
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