A study conducted by Rand, a nonprofit research organization, found that approximately one-third of behavioral health patients seeking therapy or medication did not have the option of both telehealth and in-person care. Furthermore, 45% of patients felt that their clinicians did not consider their preferences for virtual or in-person care, and 32% did not receive their preferred method of treatment. Despite the increased use of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic, many patients still preferred in-person visits due to the personal nature of the treatment, the ability to build a rapport with providers, and concerns about data security and privacy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an expansion of telehealth and an increase in mental health treatment. Rand researchers found that telehealth use has remained at ten times pre-pandemic levels and that patients’ preference for behavioral telehealth has continued into this year. However, the recent study by Rand revealed that many behavioral health patients still want the choice to pursue in-person visits. In the prior year, 80% of people undergoing individual therapy had telehealth visits compared to 42% who had in-person visits. Those seeking medication had a relatively equal distribution, with 54% having telehealth visits and 58% having in-person visits.
The findings of the study indicate that patients’ preferences for treatment methods should be taken into greater consideration in clinical discussions and policy decisions. Expanding telehealth can increase access to care, but it may not be sufficient for all patients. Ideally, patients should have access to some amount of in-person care, especially since many prefer it or may require it. Some states, like California and Pennsylvania, have started emphasizing the importance of in-person visits alongside telehealth care by requiring clinicians to offer in-person care or facilitate referrals to in-person providers.
In conclusion, the study highlights the need for healthcare providers to offer both telehealth and in-person options for behavioral health patients. While telehealth has provided increased access to care, patients’ preferences for in-person visits should be considered. Balancing the advantages of telehealth with the importance of building a rapport with providers and addressing privacy concerns is crucial for delivering high-quality behavioral health care.