The use of telehealth services – a combination of telephone, video, and other online tools – peaked during COVID closures, and Coloradans still are opting for remote visits, according to new data.
Social isolation and other disruptions saw mental and behavioral telehealth visits rise dramatically. Cari Frank – vice president for communications with the Center for Improving Value in Health Care – said for some, remote services greatly reduce the barrier of the stigma still associated with mental health.
“Especially in rural areas, where everybody can see your car parked in front of the therapist,” said Frank. “If you’re able to do that from the comfort of your own home, then that gives you a comfortable space to go and find those services, and get the care that you need.”
Mental-health services rose from 37% of all telehealth visits in 2019 to 53% in 2020. Federal and state policymakers helped pave the way for increased access to telehealth by removing much of the red tape that restricted provider compensation, especially for Medicaid coverage.
Remote visits help hospitals and insurance companies save money, but many physicians have warned against abandoning traditional hands-on in-person visits. Frank said telehealth is probably appropriate for around 25% of healthcare services. “It’s not something that’s going to replace the doctor being able to listen to your breathing with a stethoscope,” said Frank. “But I do think that we should be making sure that we’re utilizing technology that we have at our fingertips.”
Telehealth can include digital monitoring of blood sugar levels for people with diabetes, and heart rates for people with cardiovascular issues. Frank noted that remote services also can help more people access health care in the middle of the workday. “You have to take off work,” said Frank. “Not everybody can do that. So having a 10-minute call with them on a break, if you’re having an acute issue, and they can just send a prescription to Walgreen’s. I think it’s just more convenient for a lot of people.”