How Behavioral Telehealth Became a Leading Use Case for Virtual Care

Nurse saying hi to patient on computer

nearly 6 in 10 adults would use behavioral telehealth services for their mental health treatment.At the best of times, health systems can devote only limited resources toward specialized mental health or addiction treatment. Patients often encounter a burdensome process to access the behavioral healthcare they need. It was a situation only exasperated by COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, even as mental health issues increased.

The pandemic has reinforced what many health system administrators were already identifying: behavioral health was a prime candidate for virtual care. Telepsychiatry uniquely offers the kind of security, privacy and convenience that is critical in delivering a high level of care for behavioral health patients.

Let’s take a look at how health systems are implementing virtual care for behavioral telehealth delivery, and what makes it an effective care model.

What is Behavioral Telehealth?

Before understanding behavioral telehealth, it is important to learn more about behavioral health. Behavioral health refers to how our daily cognitive habits affect our overall well-being, emotions, biology, and behavior. Although it’s often used interchangeably with mental health,  it is not just referring to our mental wellness, but the way our thoughts play out in real life.

Behavioral health — like other areas of health care — has changed significantly due to the COVID-19 public health emergency. Mental health providers can now offer and get reimbursed for behavioral telehealth services.

Behavioral telehealth benefits patients who can access care from their homes with more options for safety, privacy, and convenience. It helps connect patients and providers to a wider network regardless of location. It creates easier and more convenient access to specialist and unique treatments. It also provides a more confident and comfortable enviornment for patients who are unwilling to seek out in-person behavioral health treatment, but feel more comfortable with telehealth.

The Growing Need for Behavioral Telehealth

Behavioral healthcare is of increased importance to health systems. Within American society, there is a growing awareness and acceptance of the many forms of mental health disorders, and its reported prevalence is also on the rise in the U.S. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in 2019:

  • 20.6% of adults experienced mental illness
  • 5.2% of adults experienced serious mental illness
  • 3.8% of adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness
  • 16.5% of youth experienced a mental health disorder (2016)

For health systems, addressing behavioral health needs is important in and of itself, but it’s also vital for reducing demands on other forms of care. “A lack of timely access to psychiatric care can lead to increased use of emergency departments, inpatient admissions, increased costs in treating patients, and poor outcomes for individuals, families, and communities,” explained Sandy Hall, president of Lighthouse Telehealth (a VidyoHealth Customer) in a Healthcare IT News article. “In addition, there are a limited number of available psychiatrists to treat these conditions.”

Behavioral telehealth, also known as behavioral telemedicine, has proven to be a valuable and efficient means of supporting patients and preventing over-burdening health systems.

How Behaviorial Telehealth Provides Wider Access to Mental Healthcare

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, behavioral telehealth was implemented primarily to provide services in locations that otherwise did not have access, such as more rural or remote regions. Health systems were already demonstrating that telepsychiatry and other forms of virtual care were as safe, effective, and provided comparable patient outcomes to in-person care. Lighthouse Telehealth is just one example. A subsidiary of Harbor, a nonprofit mental health and substance use disorder treatment provider based in Toledo, Ohio, they created “TelePatient Rooms” at multiple office locations. Each room came installed with VidyoHealth equipment for private telehealth sessions, including a camera, speaker, and wall-mounted screen. Doctors and other healthcare providers installed Vidyo on their computers, as well as their own cameras and speakers, to enhance the communication quality, and could control the camera in the TelePatient Room to closely observe and evaluate the patient throughout the session.

Of course, once the COVID-19 pandemic reached their communities, health systems with virtual models for telepsychiatry and behavioral telehealth were able to continue offering a high quality of care in a time of heightened anxiety and isolation. Now, a recent national public opinion poll found that nearly 6 in 10 adults would use telehealth services for mental healthcare.

“The quick pivot to providing telehealth services at the start of the pandemic was vital to providing continued access to care and this poll shows the important potential role for telehealth going forward,” said APA president Vivian Pender, MD in a related press release. “Telepsychiatry especially helps those facing barriers, such as lack of transportation, the inability to take time off work for appointments, or family responsibilities.”

Implementing behavioral telehealth and other forms of virtual care for mental health improves the delivery of care in two ways: first, it provides patients with easier access to high quality health services that they might not otherwise get; and it frees up hospital resources for medical treatments that must be done in-person.

Purpose-Built Solutions for Behavioral Telehealth Care

VidyoHealth offers flexible workflows and the most comprehensive integration ecosystem on the market, all on one highly customizable, ultra-secure platform. Employing VidyoHealth solutions will enable you to improve clinical efficiency, outcomes, and patient satisfaction while keeping costs under control, all in line with directives for behavioral health. 

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