A new study finds during the first few months of the pandemic, patients were more likely to use telehealth services for behavioral health treatment than physical conditions.
The study, published recently by RAND Corp., shows that 53.6% of patients with a behavioral health condition sought treatment via telehealth from mid-March to early May of 2020. By comparison, 43.2% of patients with a chronic physical condition used telehealth to receive care during the same period.
To get the findings, RAND surveyed 2,052 people from its American Life Panel, which is a group of more than 6,000 who participate in RAND's research. Of those 2,052 people, 39.3% were being treated for a chronic medical health condition prior to COVID and 15% for a behavioral health condition. Overall, 48% of these patients said they sought telehealth treatment during the first few months of the pandemic.
Most of the 2,052 respondents were white—63.9%—and 94.2% were insured.
Using telehealth largely for behavioral health treatment correlates with the strong evidence base showing telehealth is effective for behavioral health services.
The RAND study also found using telehealth for behavioral health was less likely for women, people over 60 and those with less than a high school education.
"If telehealth use is going to remain high, we need to ensure equity of access, particularly for behavioral healthcare where education, age and gender were all associated with levels of use," said Dr. Shira Fischer, lead author of the study and a physician researcher at RAND, in a statement.
The authors added that information from studies like RAND's should be used by policymakers as they evaluate telehealth regulations post-COVID. There is a push among providers that telehealth reimbursement be more on par with in-person services after the pandemic but it's unclear how insurers will respond.