COVID Forced Psychiatric Care Online, and Many Patients Want to Stay There, Study Finds

A year ago, trying to find patients who would agree to see their Michigan Medicine mental health care provider via a video screen was like pulling teeth.

Only 26 video visits with a few early adopters had occurred in almost six months, compared to over 30,000 in-person visits.

But Jennifer Severe, MD, one of three psychiatrists who helped launch a test of telehealth initiatives at the University of Michigan’s outpatient psychiatry clinic, wasn’t about to give up.

She prepared to give a talk in early April 2020, hoping to convince more of her colleagues to try telepsychiatry, now that a large insurance company was paying for it. She even had examples of how clinic staff ‘saved’ the care of patients who called at the last minute to cancel an appointment for their depression or bipolar disorder, but instead agreed to a session. video therapy.

Severe never had the opportunity to make this speech.

Instead, on March 23, all non-emergency health care in the state of Michigan was closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. And video chats and phone calls have become the only way most patients can connect with their psychiatrists and psychologists at Michigan Medicine, UM’s academic medical center.

For almost all of these patients, this has been the case for the past nine months.

Now, a new study by Severe suggests that more than half of these patients will want to continue with virtual mental health care even after the pandemic subsides.

According to new findings published in JMIR formative research, the convenience of seeing a provider without leaving home and avoiding potential exposure to the coronavirus, especially for those with other underlying health conditions, plays a large role in this preference. The same goes for a patient’s initial experience of virtually seeing a provider.

Patient preferences

The data comes from a summer 2020 telephone survey of 244 patients or relatives of patients who had appointments with a UM mental health care provider during the first weeks of the pandemic-related shutdown. . Almost 83% decided to make their first date or that of their child during the time of the pandemic through a video chat.

But the study also suggests the need for special attention to the minority of patients who initially chose to pursue psychiatric care through phone calls.

Even though this represented less than 14% of the study population, they were more likely to be over 45 years old. In the summer, they were much less likely to want to receive remote mental health care in the future.

SEE ALSO: Telehealth visits skyrocketing seniors, but concerns and barriers remain

As health insurers and government agencies make decisions about whether and how to pay mental health providers for short- and long-term virtual care, the new data could inform them, Severe says.

“We have gone from little success with telepsychiatry, and a lot of reluctance among providers and patients, to having almost all of our care delivered virtually and offering help to those in need,” she says. . “These data suggest an opportunity to turn the experience of the pandemic into an opportunity to improve access to mental health care and improve continuity of care. But political and reimbursement decisions will be important. ”

Learn more about the study

Almost all of the study group patients who had a virtual visit in the summer said it went as well as they expected, or better.

Michigan Medicine now also offers assistance for any patient with a scheduled appointment, to help them set up their online patient portal account and test the video visit technology there.

Parents of children receiving mental health or behavioral health care from providers in the Department of Psychiatry particularly noted that the video tours were more interesting.

Patients on a phone visit said it was important to be able to speak when their internet connection was unstable or when they were having issues with the video platform. One-third said they were just more comfortable talking on the phone.

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Daniel Lange

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