The pandemic catapulted virtual care into the center of all healthcare delivery.The CDC reportedthat 95% of U.S. health centers offered telehealth options during the pandemic, compared to only 43% in 2019. Will this continue to revolutionize client care and delivery? How will the electronic health record (EHR) support this?
A quarter-trillion-dollar healthcare sea change
Is it possible that $250 billion will be reallocated in health care toward virtual care? It’s looking quite possible it will exceed that. By April 2020 telehealth use in place of office visits by clients and providersrose 78% higher— astoundingly, in just three months. This was of course triggered very early on by the pandemic.
The deeper reasons why this dramatic shift happened so swiftly falls to three key factors that set this stage:
Clients were ready. Their preparation emulated how much they were ready to work remotely and take classes online.By 70%, clients prefer a virtual visit over an in-office visit now. It's logical. They have grown used to the convenience of online shopping, digital banking and streaming movies rather than going to theaters. They also want convenience in their health care.
Providers were ready.More than 80%of providers intend to continue using telehealth beyond the pandemic’s reach. Sixty-five percent have used virtual care to diagnose a new condition; 51% prescribed a medication for a new condition diagnosed during a telehealth visit.
Government was ready. During the pandemic, the federal government instituted regulatory changes that allowed for use of virtual health in new ways.
But the real story is behavioral health virtual care
Across the healthcare industry, telehealth services currently represent about17% of all office visitinsurance claims. That’s a significant change in client and provider adoption. But when you drill down to specialties, nothing beats the saturation of virtual care in the behavioral health industry, which remains at 50% penetration nearly two years after the onset of the pandemic. With substance abuse treatment, 30% continue to use virtual care.
Combine the acceptance and enthusiasm for virtual care by clients and providers in behavioral health and substance abuse with the remaining need, and it’s clear that telebehavioral health growth is on an upward trend.
How technology will continue to advance this growth
There remains a considerable need among populations in America who lack access to behavioral health practitioners.Sixty-four percent of countieshave a shortage of these providers; 70% lack a child psychiatrist.
There is also adigital dividefor populations with disabilities, those living in rural areas and those in tribal communities. There is a lack in accessing providers in-person and online, given absent, poor or reduced online access and mobile phone service.
Clients and providersare voicing concerns about maintaining the government’s pandemic-level reimbursement regulations and new funding for growth in telehealth reach. The bipartisan U.S. federalinfrastructure billprovides $65 billion for improved broadband into rural areas where virtual care is in high demand, which should improve access to telehealth in rural areas.
The Biden Administration is also planning a $19 million direct investment in telehealth to stimulate innovation and further expand internet access. The “CARES Act Funding for Behavioral Health and Disaster Behavioral Health” is another important investment.Through this act by Congress, $2.09 trillion supports state behavioral healthcare services for tribal communities and Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. This will expand broadband access for remote, rural populations.
In the private sector, investment activity for telehealth technology isstrong. Venture capital investment in digital health in only the first half of 2021 was $14.7 billion, which out scaled both 2019 and 2020 dramatically.
Telehealth is widely embraced by clients and providers in behavioral health. Populations across America need better access to providers. Both the federal government and private investment are pouring funding into improved access across the country and new and innovative technologies.
Where EHRs fit into the picture
This all points to the EHR as pivotal at this moment, creating a need for:
Interoperability in behavioral health — for data integration and communications, for improved data flow for care teams across disciplines between providers in highly populated and remote areas, and successfulwhole-person care
Interoperability of virtual care activities into practice workflows to improve efficiencies that allow practices to grow.