A Year in Review: The Evolving Role of Telepsychiatry

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2020 has been an unprecedented year. Providers and patients alike have faced extraordinary losses, both in health, life, and income. While the battle to defeat COVID-19 continues, it has brought about some positive changes in the medical community. The pandemic has caused a shift from telehealth being ancillary, to a vital medical tool for patient and provider safety.

In February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised patients and healthcare providers in areas affected by COVID-19 to adopt social-distancing practices, with specific recommendations for healthcare facilities to utilize telehealth services. Following this guidance, the first quarter of 2020 saw a 50% increase in the number of virtual health visits compared to 2019.

The expanded use of virtual care made it easier to safely screen patients for COVID-19 symptoms and increased access to primary care, specialists, and mental health providers alike. With all of the disruptions to our healthcare system this year, telehealth helped to treat non-emergency illnesses while minimizing the risk of spreading the virus, provided continuity of care for discharged patients, and helped with medication management. All these steps helped to save hospital resources, beds, and PPE for COVID-19 cases where they were most desperately needed.

Deregulation and increasing reimbursement

To help providers and healthcare facilities add virtual care, the CDC instigated new policies to speed the adoption of telehealth and reduce barriers. Quickly following suit, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) also issued new guidance to encourage the use of telehealth. As of March 2020, providers were allowed to bill for patients seen at home via videoconferencing, without needing an originating site, regardless of their location – a significant change from 2019 when patients had to live in a designated rural area to receive virtual care.

Since March, the use of virtual healthcare has skyrocketed, with nearly 46% of patients now using it.

Increased physician and patient acceptance

Since March, the use of virtual healthcare has skyrocketed, with nearly 46% of patients now using it. During just the first part of the year, patient adoption was up 33% over the previous year. Telemedicine is now poised to take over around 20% of all Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Virtual care enhances patient care and the care experience, and this has not gone unnoticed by providers. According to a study by the American Medical Association:

  • 48% of physicians used telehealth for the first time in 2020
  • 90% have now treated patients remotely
  • 68% believe this will have a lasting impact on how physicians provide patient care
  • 77% support the shift to telehealth

Telepsychiatry offers care solutions for mental health patients, even after a pandemic

As we have previously covered, epidemics affect more than people’s physical health. Disruptions in work, healthcare, and family take a large toll on society and can worsen mental health issues. Stay at home orders and social distancing can cause people to feel isolated from family and friends, and many of us are having holiday gatherings via videoconference instead of gathering with our family. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53% of US adults report that their mental health has been negatively affected this year. And more than a quarter of US adults reported using telepsychiatry for mental health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey conducted in July.

Psychiatrists are uniquely qualified to help with the psychological impacts of COVID-19. As many will know from reading our posts, fewer than 24% of emergency medicine training programs provide any psychiatric training. And mental health issues cannot be ignored.

Telepsychiatry gives patients 24/7 access to the mental healthcare they need during this time. Virtual visits allow patients in quarantine to receive access to the mental health care they need, without the risk of spreading the contagion.

Looking ahead to 2021

As we go into 2021 with the burgeoning hope of a vaccine, it’s important to consider what post-pandemic healthcare will look like. Patient comfort levels with telehealth have continued to increase over the years, with the pandemic pushing the medical industry to catch up. It’s unlikely that the high use of telehealth is just a COVID-19 fad, and numbers are expected to continue increasing in the coming years.

2021 has been an exciting year of growth for MindCare, starting with our timely acquisition of PsychNow back in March, just as the pandemic was taking hold on our communities. Now with more than 100-board certified physicians and behavioral health experts on our team, MindCare can help you rapidly scale your telepsychiatry offerings across emergency departments, inpatient units and outpatient clinics with a customizable technology platform to fit your needs and a quality of service that has earned us the Joint Commission Gold Seal of Approval.

2021 is sure to be another record year for telepsychiatry, and we at MindCare are excited to see what the new year will bring and stand ready to partner with you on your telehealth journey.

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