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COVID-19 Helped Break Down Mental Health Barriers

What worked during the pandemic, and what’s next.

Key points

  • Before COVID, telepsychiatry was nearly non-existent.
  • After three years, many realize that the telepsychiatry platforms in place work and that people desire online appointments.
  • Mental health apps can be an effective tool for patients to use as part of their care, but they are costly and not covered by insurance.

While the federal COVID-19 national emergency ends in a few weeks, providers, insurers, and patients can all learn from what worked during the emergency.

The emergency rules allowed telepsychiatry services to take off, which helped break down walls that kept some patients from accessing care. As we all know, access has long been a significant hindrance for many trying to get care, and the success of remote care is undeniable. Telepsychiatry services are here to stay, even if some regulations return when the declaration expires.

There were many reasons telehealth was non-existent before COVID. One big one: regulations from governmental payers—Medicare and Medicaid—and limited reimbursement to certain geographical and clinical settings. That has changed, and those payments will continue to be made, at least for the time being. This is a significant victory because more than 50 percent of patients accessing mental health care are doing so through telehealth.

Many providers were also unsure if telehealth would be an effective way to provide behavioral health services.

Well, after three years, most of us realize that the platforms in place work and that there is an appetite for those appointments.

In fact, the end of the public health emergency is a good time to discuss where the industry can go next to expand technology-based care further. Some developers have created apps dedicated to mental health as part of the technology boom. Some are more detailed than others, and because behavioral health is personalized, it’s difficult to predict which apps will work best for each patient.

The apps, however, can be an effective tool for patients to use as part of their care. But there’s a barrier: Many of these apps are costly and not covered by insurers, meaning patients must pay out of pocket to utilize them.

A solution that includes covering these apps, especially when they’re part of a provider’s care, could go a long way toward further eliminating the barriers to accessing behavioral health care.

There are other possible post-COVID emergency challenges. During the emergency, many states allowed practitioners licensed in other states to provide treatment across state lines, but we do not have this flexibility going forward. One way to solve this issue is to build and expand Interstate licensure compacts. A compact creates a trusted pathway for expedited licensing to practice in multiple states for telehealth providers.

Eliminating the public health emergency will also limit a provider’s ability to prescribe controlled substances to a patient they care for through a telehealth platform.

As we shift toward a post-pandemic world, let’s take advantage of how providers have improved behavioral health care and build upon these improvements. It will be hard now to take a step back.

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