A new study on virtual mental health visits adds details to the landscape of telemedicine in the U.S.
RAND Corporation research reveals significant regional differences in access to specific features of virtual mental health services. However, the study found no evidence that telemedicine exacerbates access problems, particularly for disadvantaged populations.
“The results of this secret shopper survey are encouraging in that we did not observe systematic bias where available services differed based on a client’s race and ethnicity, the client’s clinical condition, or county-level sociodemographic characteristics,” the study show.
Research shows patients continue to face ghost network issues. About 21% of a nationally representative sample of 1,938 outpatient mental health treatment facilities contacted by the researchers could not be contacted.
“The fact that we were unable to contact anyone at one in five institutions suggests that many may Difficulty getting to a clinic to ask about mental health care.” Posted.
Across all types of facilities, 87% said they are accepting new patients and 80% said they offer telehealth services.
Virtual mental health is special within the broader context of telemedicine. It’s the only healthcare industry to maintain a significant increase in utilization after the acute phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Another study showed that in November 2023, 66.4% of all telemedicine insurance claims were due to mental health-related diagnoses, according to FAIR Health.
However, the study noted that the exact landscape of virtual mental health as a whole is not fully understood, further stating that “little is known about the availability and composition of mental health telehealth services.”
Regionality has a significant impact on the services that may be provided. Facilities in metropolitan areas were more likely to provide medication administration but were significantly less likely to provide diagnosis. Overall, about a quarter of clinics did not offer virtual medication management and about a third did not offer virtual diagnostic services.
The wait times for first appointments also vary across regions. Across states, the average wait time is 14 days, with a range from 4 days (North Carolina) to 75 days (Maine).
Facility ownership status has an impact on service availability. Private facilities that provide only outpatient mental health services are the most likely to offer telehealth services, twice as likely as public facilities, which are least likely. Private for-profit facilities were also least likely to provide medication management but most likely to provide diagnostic services.
“No disparities were found related to the race, ethnicity, gender, or manifested mental health condition of the customer caller,” the report states.
Payer source also appears to influence the availability of virtual mental health services. The report states that institutions that consider Medicaid an acceptable payment method are more likely to offer counseling services via telemedicine than institutions that do not accept Medicaid.
Here is a breakdown of the virtual mental health models facilities offer:
— 47%, via video call only
— 47%, via video and phone calls
— 5%, by phone only
— 1%, don’t know
Here are the details of the services provided:
— 97%, consulting services
— 77% Medication Management
— 69% diagnostic services
During the heyday of U.S. regulators, telemedicine remained a hot topic. Last month, federal lawmakers introduced a bill that would eliminate in-person visits for virtual mental health services for people on Medicare. Medicare is seen as a harbinger for the rest of the payments market. It also remains Congress’s go-to tool for reaching people in rural communities who need mental health services. Another bill introduced in December calls for a number of reforms targeting this population.
One of the most pressing regulatory issues remaining in 2023 includes federal oversight of the prescribing of controlled substances via telemedicine. The Trump administration enacted multiple flexibilities during the pandemic, some of which are exempt from these laws. The question now is whether they will be permanent under a Biden administration.