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Telehealth Offerings to Remain for Many Providers Post-Pandemic

August 14, 2020

A national survey of behavioral healthcare providers suggests the telehealth services that organizations have put into place in response to COVID-19 are going to become a fixture post-pandemic as well.

The National Council for Behavioral Health and Qualifacts, an EHR platform for behavioral health and human service organizations, polled more than 1,000 behavioral health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability providers about their COVID-19-related operational changes. Among the findings published in their white paper on the study:

  • 80% of respondents said they are currently are providing at least 60% of their care services virtually. Prior to the pandemic, 93% of respondents provided less than 20% of their services virtually.
  • About two-thirds of respondents said at least 40% of the care they provide will continue to be delivered virtually in the future.

“With the pandemic erecting substantial new barriers to in-person care, patients and providers embraced telehealth in historic numbers,” National Council president and CEO Chuck Ingoglia said in a news release. “Virtual care represents the safest, most efficient means to provide behavioral health treatment and services during the pandemic. This timely survey clearly demonstrates that virtual care is here to stay and will remain a viable option for treatment long after the pandemic.”

Other findings from the survey indicate that significant work remains as providers reshape their operations and try to remain financially viable. First, 64% of respondents said they have experienced revenue losses during the pandemic, yet also reported decreased no-show rates. A reduction of highly profitable inpatient programs “played a significant role in the overall revenue reduction of many survey respondents,” the study’s authors said in the white paper.

Second, while many regulations around the use of telehealth have been eased on an emergency basis in response to the pandemic, survey respondents noted in their replies that they will need to have telehealth platforms that comply with state and federal rules once they are enforced again. Having comprehensive telehealth platforms, adequate solutions for maintaining patient engagement between sessions, and telephonic interventions were among the top tech capability concerns cited.

Lastly, 20% of responding agencies said they believed they would need to change EHR vendors to support new virtual programming. There was also a significant gap in how executives viewed their current EHR compared to how staff did: 64% of executive respondents said they felt they had the right EHR currently in place to support their virtual care efforts vs. just 44% of staff-level respondents.

“This probably indicates that the provider is conducting services, billing and getting paid, but the workflow is not efficient for the staff member,” the authors wrote. “Besides the workflow efficiency and integration of telehealth solutions, the two major gaps that staff members believe exist are patient engagement and staff engagement — both are likely deficiencies in current EHR systems.”

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