As COVID-19 continues to spread—along with virus-induced closures, cancellations and social isolation—physical health is hardly the only concern.
Mental health and addiction services providers have been given new guidance from the state on telehealth services at a time when demand is growing and could reach unprecedented levels.
Licensed providers in New York who submit a self-attestation to the Office of Mental Health or Office of Addiction Services and Supports will be rapidly authorized to deliver remote services for mental health during the emergency, according to the state. Requirements include that the transmission of services be dedicated and secure and that confidentiality be maintained.
Though the state issued guidance to expand tele-mental health services in November, the latest guidance would hasten the approval process to better accommodate for the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Commercial insurance and Medicaid reimburse for telehealth services.
"The anxiety is probably unsurpassed," said Amy Dorin, president and CEO of the Coalition for Behavioral Health. Data has shown that the mentally ill who were in treatment in the 9/11-era fared better than their counterparts who were not treated. But, she added, the coronavirus outbreak is even different than 9/11.
"This is different because the workforce is worrying about their own health," Dorin said. "The more they stay home, the more challenging it is for our providers to provide services to people who are mentally ill or have substance-use issues."
The state noted in its guidance that providers have contacted the Office of Mental Health saying that their patients are having anxiety about leaving their homes. And, said Dorin, "Agencies struggle with wanting to provide continuity of care for their clients, and also are very concerned about the shortfall in revenue."
Telehealth can go a long way in addressing all of those issues, Dorin said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday directed state-regulated insurers to waive copays for telehealth visits to encourage more people to seek care from their homes.
Dr. Jorge Petit, president and CEO of Coordinated Behavioral Care, also noted the importance of telehealth and telephonic guidance from the state during the coronavirus outbreak.
In particular, Petit lauded guidance to reimburse for care coordination handled remotely by care managers.
People are going to want access to more services outside of in-person visits, he said. And "telehealth will be an important strategy."
The health care system is going to have to figure out how to readjust to get the right interventions to people in different ways, he said. "This is going to go on for a while. We have to think of this as a marathon and not a sprint."
Manhattan-based online therapy company Talkspace—which connects customers to licensed therapists through mobile apps and the web—also has seen an uptick in demand.
Much of that has been driven by services needed to address existing anxiety made worse by uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus, and increasingly, social isolation caused by it, said Dr. Neil Leibowitz, chief medical officer at Talkspace.
"We've been in the telehealth space for a long time," Leibowitz said. "At times, the adoption has been slower for some groups. When situations like this arise it really shows the value."
He added that any actions taken to increase access to mental health services is a positive for patients.
As for the state's guidance for more telehealth providers to come online, it will "help to ensure that our clients are able to stay stable and stay in the community," said Nadia Chait, associate director of policy and advocacy at The Coalition for Behavioral Health. These types of services will help to avoid hospitalizations and emergency department visits "at a time when we want to make sure our health care system has the capacity to respond to COVID-19."
This article was originally published in Crain's New York Business.