According to a research report published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of mental health appointments (55%) are now conducted remotely through videoconferencing rather than in-person visits. This form of care is known as telemedicine or telehealth and allows patients to receive care through technology like cellphones, video chat, computers, and tablets.
The study analyzed patient information from the Department of Veterans Affairs from January 1, 2019, through August 31, 2023, covering over 277 million outpatient visits by 9 million veterans. It found that the volume of telemedicine visits increased significantly once the coronavirus pandemic began, becoming much more common than in-person visits. For primary care and mental health care, in-person appointments dropped from 81% to 23% in the first few months of the pandemic.
By spring 2023, phone-based care had returned to its pre-pandemic level, but video-based care had remained close to its peak during the pandemic, representing a 2,300% increase from its pre-pandemic level. The researchers noted that the majority of mental health care continues to be provided via telemedicine, attributing this to the ease of adapting mental health services to virtual platforms as compared to primary care and medical specialists’ care which often require in-person evaluations such as physical examinations.
Telemedicine has become increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic due to its convenience and safety for both patients and healthcare providers. However concerns about privacy and security have been raised as mental health appointments are particularly vulnerable to cyberattacks. It is important for healthcare providers to ensure that they use secure platforms for telemedicine appointments and educate patients on how to protect their sensitive information when using technology for healthcare purposes.