Telehealth for behavioral health care is used more than ever before

May 18, 2022
telehealth at home

How to know if telehealth is the right choice for you

By Regence

The U.S. health care system has experienced a rapid increase in the use of telehealth over the past two years for both mental and physical health. While telehealth existed before the COVID-19 public health emergency, it only represented less than 1% of outpatient visits. At the peak of the pandemic, telehealth use jumped to 40% for mental health and substance use outpatient visits, and 11% for physical health visits. At Regence, we saw telehealth visits increase eight times for behavioral health care from 2019 to 2021. Today telehealth visits for mental health and substance use continue to rise, meanwhile telehealth visits for physical health have declined after in-person options resumed.

Many experts believe telehealth’s popularity will continue. Telehealth has been especially helpful in meeting patient needs for behavioral health care, including improved access to care. In fact, studies have shown telehealth therapy to be as effective as in-person care for treating various mental health conditions like moderate depression and anxiety. Given the popularity and benefits of telehealth, it’s important to understand what it is and how best to use this care option.

Understanding telehealth for behavioral health care needs

Behavioral health telehealth care services can be provided by a licensed therapist or counselor by phone, video calls and text messages. Since there is no need to travel to a specific location for a telehealth visit, treatment can occur wherever is most convenient, like the comfort of home. This is helpful for people who have mobility issues and leaving home is difficult creating a barrier to receiving care.

Also, when you can do a virtual appointment from wherever you are, it’s often easier to schedule times. Telehealth has been exceptionally helpful in rural areas where there are few mental health practices in the area and driving long distances for care is a big burden. In 2021, 55% of rural mental health and substance use outpatient visits were delivered by telehealth compared to 35% in urban areas. Telehealth may also be a little more approachable for some who are new to seeking care because it is only a few clicks away rather than traveling to an appointment.

Although telehealth brings many advantages, it might not be for every person and need. Sometimes in-person therapy visits are more advantageous than telehealth. Telehealth isn’t the right choice for people experiencing severe or complex symptoms of mental health or substance use conditions that require close and direct care. Providers and patients may find it harder to pick up on body signals, facial expressions and other real-life signals. Using technology also isn’t for everyone and can create frustration or make the care experience less comfortable. Ultimately, some people and situations may benefit more from in-person therapy.

Regence members can access a spectrum of behavioral health resources

Whether you need occasional emotional support or ongoing mental health care, Regence has a variety of programs to prevent, identify and treat mental health and substance use disorders. Regence members who want to understand what is available under their health plan can sign in to their account on regence.com, or call us for help finding the right behavioral health resources.

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