Michigan Association of Health Plans

The pandemic ushered in ‘a new era of medicine’: These telehealth trends are likely here to stay

The coronavirus pandemic has changed many aspects of the American health care system, but nothing changed quite as drastically as the rise of telemedicine.

While virtual care existed before COVID-19, the practice boomed after state-mandated, stay-at-home orders and have since remained strong.

Prior to the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts received about 200 telehealth claims per day. That number reached up to 40,0000 claims per day from April to May 2020, and the insurer is still receiving about 30,000 claims per day almost a year later, according to spokesperson Amy McHugh.

Athenahealth, a health tech company, released an interactive dashboard that delivered insights on telehealth trends from 18.4 million virtual appointments by 60,000 providers.

“The pandemic has necessitated a new era in medicine in which telehealth appointments are a core aspect of the patient-provider relationship,” said Jessica Sweeney-Platt, the company’s vice president of research and editorial strategy.

Here are some telemedicine trends the company and other health experts have found:

Mental health appointments dominate virtual care

Telemedicine had the biggest impact on mental health visits with approximately 33% of appointments held virtually, according to athenahealth’s dashboard data.

McHugh said mental health appointments made up about 53% of the 7.5 million telehealth claims processed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts since March 2020.

“Telehealth lends itself to mental health fairly easily because you’re essentially just talking to somebody, so that you can do from pretty much anywhere,” said. Dr. Georgia Gaveras, chief psychiatrist and co-founder of Talkiatry, a technology-driven psychiatric care provider.

Consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic – such as job insecurity or the loss of a loved one – have had a significant impact on Americans’ mental health with anxiety and depression becoming the most common issues, experts say.

A survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June 2020 found more than 40% of respondents reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, and 11% reported having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days prior.

“The pandemic and telehealth have made seeking out mental health treatment a non-negotiable for a lot of people,” Gaveras said.

Apart from the growing need for mental health treatment, she said telehealth has also made it easier to seek care for those who may have needed it before the pandemic. Many of her patients schedule appointments in the middle of the work or school day.

The flexibility of telehealth has also led to a level of discretion, Gaveras said, as some patients don’t want to be seen entering a psychiatrist’s office or leaving work for regular visits.

“Telehealth is really getting people out there and seeking help for mental health more,” she said. “The more people seek out mental health treatment, the less stigmatized it is.”

This article originally appeared in USA Today, read more here.