The results are in …
and the winner is virtual care.

It may have taken a global pandemic to prove the point, but virtual care, including telemental health, has become — almost overnight — an essential component of the behavioral healthcare toolbox. And its prominence in the big picture is unlikely to lessen even after COVID-19 has been relegated to the history books.

Those are some of the conclusions of a nationwide survey of more than 1,000 behavioral health executives and staff conducted by Qualifacts and the National Council for Behavioral Health. Amid the ongoing uncertainties brought about by the coronavirus, there is widespread agreement that virtual health will play a vital role from now on as behavioral health providers strive to serve their communities’ needs.

Among the Virtual Care Survey Findings:

  • 80% said they are delivering care virtually at least 60% of the time now.
  • 70% said at least 40% of their care will be virtual going forward.
  • 64% have experienced revenue losses—yet also report decreased no-show rates.
  • 20% said they’d need a new electronic health record (EHR) in order to support new virtual programming.

Significant Challenges Lie Ahead

As with any sea change such as this one, there are significant challenges, one being the aforementioned revenue losses. In addition, the intimate nature of behavioral healthcare, which relies on face-to-face interactions, has made many staff concerned about departing from the traditional, in-person approach.

Also, state and federal regulatory requirements have historically been a roadblock, although the pandemic forced major legislative changes that made quick adoption of virtual care possible, especially among organizations with fewer than 100 employees.

Finally, the financial burden of telehealth ― which includes the costs of necessary technological improvements and upgrades ― is a challenge for many behavioral health providers, who often trail their primary care peers in terms of technology.

But what’s really encouraging is that behavioral health providers by and large were able to respond quickly to a crisis that has literally changed almost everything about how we live our lives and, by extension, how we provide healthcare.

What Hasn’t Changed

While rapid responses by state and federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have expanded the services that can be delivered by telehealth, and where and how those can be delivered, many health disparities remain.

Racial minority groups, economically challenged communities and rural communities are still subject to social determinants of health that limit their access to care, be it in-person or virtual. COVID-19 has widened the gap between individuals’ behavioral health needs and their ability to access services. As behavioral health issues rise, partly as a result of the pandemic, providers are struggling to meet the demand.

For behavioral health clients, challenges to virtual care include poor connectivity, internet access and difficulty understanding technology. Survey respondents at the executive and staff levels agreed that comprehensive telehealth platforms, patient engagement solutions and telephone-only interventions will be needed to maintain efficient and effective delivery of virtual care services―and those must be made available to all who need them.

Another thing that hasn’t changed, which is good news for everyone, is behavioral health providers’ commitment to their communities. As they continue in this new normal, they will need to focus on:

  • enhancing patient engagement
  • ensuring staff engagement
  • and deploying the right technology solutions, anchored by a strong and flexible EHR

“Telehealth has always eliminated barriers to access,” said Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, in a news release about the virtual care survey. “With the pandemic erecting substantial new barriers to in-person care, patients and providers embraced telehealth in historic numbers. Virtual care represents the safest, most efficient means to provide behavioral health treatment and services during the pandemic. This timely survey clearly demonstrates that virtual care is here to stay and will remain a viable option for treatment long after the pandemic.”

Access the full Whitepaper summarizing the findings of our nationwide survey on virtual care.

And if you are considering a new EHR for your organization, download How to Select the Best EHR: The 2020 Guide for Behavioral Healthcare Executives, Qualifacts’ exhaustive — and vendor-neutral — 64-page guide to the process.

Related Resources

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