The pandemic ushered in a new era of digital health – for some, more than others

(BPT) - When the COVID-19 pandemic left many unable to visit their mental health providers in person, telehealth surged in popularity.

A special report from the State of the Nation’s Mental Health found that virtual visits — including voice or voice and video — accounted for 49% of all Medicaid mental health visits at the height of the pandemic, up from mere single digits in 2019.

By boosting the numbers of people using telehealth, COVID-19 may have jumpstarted broader adoption of telehealth for mental health conditions — especially among Hispanics and Latinos. During COVID-19, nearly 40% of Hispanic and Latino Anthem consumers had a virtual mental health visit, compared to 34% of White consumers, 33% of Asian consumers, and 28% of Black consumers.

However, the rise in mental health telehealth visits did not shrink existing racial gaps for in-person mental healthcare visits or overall telehealth usage. In fact, Black consumers had the lowest combined percentage of virtual and in-person visits both before and after COVID-19 — decreasing from 56% pre-pandemic to 49% after COVID-19's peak. These rates are particularly noteworthy, as data indicates Black individuals were most likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and have experienced more stress from the pandemic.

“There are likely many reasons behind the differences in mental health virtual visits — including issues that prevent people from seeking care, such as medical injustices and a history of receiving culturally insensitive care,” said Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Chief Health Officer, Shantanu Agrawal, M.D. “Health equity is a key driver for mental and physical well-being. To achieve equity in our healthcare, we need to understand where and why barriers to health exist, and then use these insights to drive changes to a new system of health that puts equity at the center.”

Mental healthcare is a crucial component of whole health, and whether people choose to seek care virtually or in person, the most important thing to do is seek help.

For those interested in taking advantage of video telehealth services specifically for mental health concerns, the following steps can serve as a starting point.

Where to find telehealth services:

  • Through a health insurer: Individuals can dial the number available on their insurance card to find out which telehealth services are available and on what platforms.
  • Through a provider: Individuals can call their provider to determine whether telehealth services are available through their practice and what types of visits are offered.

How to use telehealth:

  • Check the internet: Ensure the visit takes place in a part of the home that has the best internet connection, so video is high quality and providers stay connected the whole time.
  • Consider using a specific platform: Download a specific platform to use the service, such as LiveHealth Online.
  • Ensure the session is private: Telehealth calls should be taken from a private location, so individuals are able to speak openly about their questions and concerns.

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