After a few failed attempts at getting patients who would agree to see a telehealth psychiatrist, Jennifer Severe, a psychiatrist who had helped introduce telehealth initiatives at the University of Michigan outpatient clinic, and her colleagues were flooded with numerous videos chats after the pandemic hit.
Non-urgent healthcare in Michigan was forced to go digital, with phone calls and video chats becoming the primary means for patients to communicate with their psychologists and psychiatrists. Nine months later, this is how a majority of patients have operated.
Now, a new study led by Severe proposes that more than half of these patients will want to continue with virtual mental health care even after the pandemic ends. The study findings show that avoiding possible exposure to the virus, particularly for persons with other health concerns, and the convenience of seeing a healthcare professional without leaving one’s house factors heavily into this choice.
The data used in the study originates from a phone survey of 244 patients or patients’ parents that was conducted in the summer of 2020. The patients had scheduled appointments with a University of Michigan mental health provider in the early weeks of the shutdown that was imposed as a result of the pandemic. Roughly 83% resolved to have their child’s or their first appointment in the pandemic through video chat.
However, the study also proposes a requirement that special attention be paid to the few patients who had chosen to carry on with psychiatric care through phone calls. While they made up less than 14% of the sample population, the researchers found that they were more likely to be older than 45 years of age and were unlikely to want to obtain mental health care virtually in the future.
Severe explained that the new data from the study could help government agencies and health insurers reach a decision on how and whether to pay mental health providers for long- and short-term virtual care. She added that the data offered an opportunity to transform the pandemic experience into a chance to not only better access to mental health care but also build on continuity of care.
Moving forward, Severe expects to learn more on tele-psychiatry in the coronavirus era, in a bid to understand how various factors, such as technology access, urban vs. rural residence and an individual’s socioeconomic status, hinder — or help — patients from accessing these services.
The findings of the study were reported in “JMIR Formative Research.”
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