A new study published in JAMA Network Open has revealed that the use of telehealth to treat mental health conditions increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, while the use of in-person services decreased. Researchers from RAND Corp. and Castlight Health conducted the cohort study to examine how US adults accessed mental health services during 2020, examining data from a national US database of commercial medical claims on 5.1 million insured adults between January 5th and December 21st. They looked at the per-week use of mental health services per 10,000 beneficiaries across five psychiatric diagnostic categories: major depressive disorder (MDD), anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, adjustment disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The results of a study show that over a period of time, the average per-week mental health service usage rate across all five psychiatric diagnostic categories decreased by 57 percent for MDD, 55 percent for anxiety disorders, 52 percent for bipolar disorder, 55 percent for adjustment disorders, and 57 percent for PTSD. However, during the same period, there was a significant increase in telehealth use for these conditions with the per-week mental health service utilization rates per 10,000 enrolled increasing by 1,725 percent for MDD, 1,495 percent for anxiety disorders, 1,925 percent for bipolar disorder, 1,832 percent for adjustment disorders, and 1,714 percent for PTSD. The combination of in-person and telehealth service utilization rates also showed an overall increase in care for MDD, anxiety, and adjustment disorders.
The researchers of this study concluded that the implementation of telehealth to treat mental health conditions rapidly increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, offsetting the decline of in-person care. It is believed to be the first report that shows a 16- to 20-fold increase in utilization of telehealth services. However, the researchers noted a few limitations such as data being gathered from a select group of private insurance holders, the unknown duration of insurance coverage, and the results being confined to the year 2020. Despite these limitations, the findings are consistent with prior research regarding telehealth use for mental health care. The findings of the study have important implications for the future of mental health care and could lead to more widespread use of telehealth in the years to come.