A recent study found that the shift to virtual healthcare resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic led to positive outcomes related to engagement for patients with depression and those in need of behavioral healthcare. The study was published in a supplement to Medical Care, which is part of the Lippencott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer. According to data from the 2019 National Health Interview Survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 4.7 percent of adults 18 and over experience regular feelings of depression. This figure shot up in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 30.9 percent of US adults saying they experienced anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms.
But the pandemic also led to a historic rise in telehealth use. Thus, this study aimed to determine the effect telehealth use had on various aspects of patient care for those with depression, such as quality, use, and experience. To do this, researchers conducted a retrospective cohort study that included EHR data from three integrated healthcare systems. They also used inverse probability of treatment weighting to adjust for covariates across three established time periods: pre-pandemic (January 2019 to March 2020), peak-pandemic shift to virtual care (April 2020 to June 2020), and the recovery of healthcare operations (July 2020 to June 2021). Researchers reviewed the first virtual follow-up behavioral health encounters after an incident diagnostic encounter with patients suffering from major depression. Their goal was to uncover any differences between the three time periods with regard to orders for antidepressant medications and completion rates of symptom screenings. A press release accompanying the study also noted that the researchers analyzed almost 29,000 first telehealth follow-up behavioral health visits. Researchers found that in two of the three healthcare systems, antidepressant medication orders declined during the peak-pandemic period. However, during the recovery period, the number of orders returned to pre-pandemic levels. They found no noticeable changes in patient fulfillment rates related to antidepressant orders between the three time periods. In addition, completion rates of symptom screenings increased in all three health systems throughout the peak-pandemic period and continued during the recovery period. Based on these findings, researchers concluded that telehealth did not negatively affect behavioral healthcare. Rather, the data indicates that virtual healthcare can benefit patients with depression, highlighting the potential of telebehavioral healthcare. Similarly, a report from March 2022 found that among all age groups, healthcare consumers displayed similar or higher levels of comfort when using app-based virtual therapy compared to in-person services. The report, created by Evernorth, Cigna’s health services portfolio, in partnership with Ipsos, revealed the results of a nationwide survey conducted in the fourth quarter of 2021. The survey polled over 3,000 healthcare consumers with employer-sponsored health insurance, 575 human resources leaders, and 58 health plan leaders. The survey shows that comfort levels with virtual behavioral healthcare were high among all age groups. The share of Baby Boomers that indicated equal comfort with app-based virtual therapy and in-person mental health services was almost half, and this share exceeded half among Generation X respondents. Millennials and Generation Z were the most comfortable with virtual therapy, with 56 percent of the former and 55 percent of the latter indicating equal comfort with virtual and in-person therapy.