Can Telehealth Help Stave Off A Wave Of Depression?
In these unprecedented times, telehealth provides a lifeline to patients in need. It can help in the treatment, management, and ongoing care of individuals who are already receiving services. Telehealth can also deliver a remote alternative for those in crisis who need immediate access to services. In response, some states are already promoting telehealth as a solution to mental health access and outreach.
COVID-19 has impacts beyond the immediate health and wellbeing of those infected. As we continue to grapple with social distancing mandates, staggering unemployment, and uncertainty, rates of suicide, depression, and substance abuse are likely to spike. While isolation and social distancing are creating stress on daily life, experts warn that the United States also needs to be prepared for what may be an epidemic of clinical depression.
Others point to high unemployment, which will likely spur a spike in suicide rates. Some estimates put the potential unemployment rate on par with the Great Depression, during which one out of four people were without a job. After the market crash of 1929, suicide rates jumped 50 percent to 18.1 per 100,000 and sustained at rates above 15 per 100,0000 until World War II.
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Providers Invest In Telehealth To Combat Drops In Patient Utilization
Azalea Health recently surveyed leading providers on the impacts of COVID-19. 42 percent reported a significant drop in patient utilization because of the virus. Workflow changes and lower patient volumes top the list of areas impacted. In response, the majority of providers are making investments in telehealth and patient communication to ensure consistency in care delivery during mandatory shelter-in-place orders and concerns over disease exposure for older patients.
Behavioral health clinics are among those providers who are leveraging telehealth to stay connected. A large behavioral health facility recently reported that they operationalized their telehealth solution within 24 hours. In less than three weeks, the clinic facilitated more than 700 encounters, or 15 encounters per provider per day, through the solution.
6 Ways Telehealth Supports Behavioral Health’s Continuum Of Care
Historically, telehealth has had traction within behavioral health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) identified six domains where telehealth can impact and support the behavioral health continuum of care:
- Assessment: example—on-line depression questionnaire
- Treatment: example—cognitive behavioral therapy through video conferencing
- Medication Management: example—text message reminders to take medications
- Continuing Care: example—virtual group meetings
- Education: example—on-line training and resources
- Collaboration: example—provider to provider consultation
A University of Michigan study found that telehealth has particular benefits for underserved populations and is an important tool in reaching more patients across a greater geographic region, and with more efficient workflows.
Telehealth Is Likely To Remain For The Long Term
With the regulatory changes and waivers in place lifting restrictions on telehealth application, it is likely that the uptick in usage across providers and within the behavioral health specialty, will sustain.
Some private insurers are waiving co-pays including those for mental health and expanding mental wellness offerings, which will help to further broad adoption across providers as well as patients. These fundamental changes are ushering in a new era in care delivery. One that leverages the capabilities delivered through telehealth to drive better access and continuity of care across specialties.