Telepsychiatry and telehealth provided an essential service to patients and providers during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a safe way to deliver and receive care during a time when many hospitals and clinics were canceling in-person visits. This method of care delivery was quickly embraced. Nearly half of Medicare patients reported having a telehealth visit in the summer or fall of 2020, and 64% said their provider was offering telehealth. A substantial increase from the low 18% of Medicare physicians offering telehealth before the pandemic.
Based on this rapid increase in demand, a wave of new telehealth providers has suddenly flooded the market. In contrast, MindCare has been delivering quality care and increased patient access to mental health services for over eight years. We have developed trusted relationships with hospital systems, outpatient centers, insurance companies and patients by providing consistent, quality focused care. Continued and expanded access to telepsychiatry services is a vital part of patient care at a time when patients around the country are experiencing increasing mental health needs from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legislative changes that increased access during the pandemic are set to expire
Regulatory changes were introduced to help increase access to care during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended virtual care adoption and promoted strategies to increase its use by clinicians, insurers, and patients alike. Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2020 which provided grants to help facilities offset the cost of setting up virtual care offerings, and increased access to all telepsychiatry for all Medicare beneficiaries no matter their geographical location. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid also released a toolkit to accelerate the adoption of telehealth coverage and allowed for expanded reimbursement for telehealth services.
These changes substantially helped to increase access to a safer care option. These legislative acts were written to only be enacted during the pandemic though, leaving many uncertain of what the future brings. Additionally, one line in the Consolidated Appropriations Act requires physicians to have seen a patient in person within the past six months before a virtual visit can take place, and to continue in-person visits at regular intervals.
Bringing telehealth into 2021 and beyond
This one line significantly disrupts the safer care model the act was intended to bring. Recognizing this weakness, a bipartisan group of senators recently introduced the Telemental Healthcare Access Act of 2021. This bill removes the problematic line requiring in-person visits for mental health services. Senator Bill Cassidy, one of the bill’s supporters, stated “Medicare patients deserve direct access to telemental health services, and this bill removes barriers, to make this possible.”
Requirements for in-person mental health visits negatively impact rural and underserved communities. The US is currently facing increasing shortages of psychiatric providers, which could quickly double if the psychiatric workforce isn’t increased before 2025. Additionally, psychiatric care is unevenly distributed around the US, leaving 77% of counties underserved and 55% of states with serious shortage areas.
This year many legislators are recognizing the benefits that expanded access to telehealth brought during the pandemic and see that continuing these programs is essential for patients moving forward. In addition to the Telemental Healthcare Access Act, senators have also introduced the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act, another bill aimed at continuing access in underserved communities beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. If passed, these two bills could help solve some of the shortage issues and bring much needed mental health care to disadvantaged communities that do not have ready access to in-person care.
MindCare supports continued access to telepsychiatry across the US
The past year and a half has taken an immense toll on our mental health, increasing the already growing need for access to better mental health care. Many healthcare initiatives and medical groups are rallying in support of expanding access to telehealth services, including the American Telemedicine Association and the Health Innovation Alliance.
We at MindCare support expanding patient access to mental health care and believe that telepsychiatry is a sustainable option to help reach distant communities. Access to care should not be restricted to times of public health crises. Patients should feel secure in their ability to obtain the help they need, when and where they need it. Our telepsychiatry services offer consistent, quality care, and timely access for patients.
MindCare is a leading provider of round-the-clock telepsychiatry and behavioral health services with specialists licensed in all 50 states. We partner with healthcare professionals and organizations to deliver best-in-class, end-to-end telebehavioral health services that combine evidence-based care pathways, advanced technology, and high-quality providers. Our mental health specialists are available 24/7 for consultations and patient visits, ensuring consistent quality of care and timely access for patients. With over 100 psychiatrists, nurse practitioners, and licensed clinical social workers, our team is setting a new standard for telepsychiatry services. We are proud to be a part of bringing solutions and better care to patients around the country.