Telemedicine in Mental Health: A Surge During the Pandemic and its Long-Term Implications

Majority of mental health appointments held through video conferencing

The use of telemedicine or telehealth has become increasingly popular in the field of mental health care. According to a study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, over half (55 percent) of mental health appointments are now conducted remotely, primarily through videoconferencing rather than in-person visits.

The study analyzed patient information from the Department of Veterans Affairs from January 1, 2019, through August 31, 2023, covering over 277 million outpatient visits by 9 million veterans. It found that the volume of telemedicine visits increased significantly once the coronavirus pandemic began, becoming much more common than in-person visits. For primary care and mental health care, in-person appointments dropped from 81 percent to 23 percent in the first few months of the pandemic.

By spring 2023, phone-based care had returned to its pre-pandemic level, but video-based care had remained close to its peak during the pandemic, representing a 2,300 percent increase from its pre-pandemic level. The researchers noted that the majority of mental health care continues to be provided via telemedicine, attributing this to the ease of adapting mental health services to virtual platforms as compared to primary care and medical specialists’ care, which often require in-person evaluations such as physical examinations.

This shift towards remote mental health care is likely due to several factors. Firstly, telemedicine is convenient for patients who may not have easy access to in-person appointments due to geographic or transportation barriers. Secondly, it can be more cost effective for both patients and providers. Finally, with advancements in technology and increased familiarity with virtual platforms during the pandemic lockdowns

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