How Coronavirus Transformed Behavioral Healthcare
The coronavirus pandemic immediately transformed how behavioral health providers serve their populations. Although telehealth services were available prior to the pandemic, the need for virtual care skyrocketed as clients demanded safe, virtual access to behavioral healthcare. A CDC study showed that during the first quarter of 2020, the number of telehealth visits increased by 50% compared with the same period in 2019, and there was a 154% increase in telehealth visits during the last week of March 2020 compared with the same period in 20191. Consequently, healthcare technology providers developed more robust telehealth options to meet this increased demand. Now, behavioral health providers can partner with electronic health records companies who offer integrated telehealth services, like Welligent, to provide clients the safe, convenient, virtual care they need without sacrificing the personal touch of a face-to-face interaction.
Is Telehealth Here to Stay?
As the CDC notes telehealth has multiple benefits during the pandemic by expanding access to care, reducing disease exposure for staff and clients, preserving scarce supplies of personal protective equipment, and reducing patient demand on facilities2. Moreover, Welligent believes that telehealth will have a lasting impact on behavioral healthcare services long after the pandemic has ended. Behavioral health providers that offer virtual care options can increase their client base through their improved ability to cater to rural populations, providing convenience and safety for high-risk clients, and accommodating the preferences of younger generations.
Virtual Care Benefits Rural Populations
Before the advent of telehealth rural clients often had to travel far from home to receive care. Often, rural populations would forego necessary treatment due to the inconvenience and cost of travel associated with seeking care. Moreover, specialty care, such as behavioral healthcare, was often even more inaccessible for rural clients. As the Harvard Business Review describes, community hospitals often have low volumes and limited budgets, which usually prohibit comprehensive specialty care for those in need3. Nevertheless, telehealth services can transform these situations to everyone’s benefit. Virtual care enables clients to receive expert treatment locally without the added risk and cost of a transfer to a bigger hospital, while simultaneously, local facilities retain vital revenue and enhance their services. Although virtual care enables both clients and providers to benefit, many healthcare providers, including those who specialize in behavioral healthcare, have yet to implement a comprehensive electronic health record that integrates telehealth. A 2019 NPR study shows that 25% of rural Americans currently struggle with access to care, and about an equal amount turn to telehealth for solutions. Evidently, rural clientele are eager and willing to utilize telehealth—it is simply up to healthcare providers to support this service delivery model.
Telehealth Services Enhance Healthcare for High-Risk Clients
As the increased demand for telehealth during the pandemic has shown, clients prefer safe and convenient access to healthcare. Moreover, for high-risk clients, this turn to virtual care is not merely a preference, but a necessity. Those with underlying conditions may have previously been unwilling to seek both routine and specialty care during the pandemic, due to the risks associated with in-person visits. However, telehealth services enable high-risk clients to maintain their health during the current pandemic—and long after it has ceased. Now that high-risk clients have been afforded the opportunity to receive virtual care, many may be unwilling to forego the safety and convenience of telehealth to return to in-person visits, even when coronavirus is no longer a public health issue. Through implementing a robust telehealth option, healthcare providers can capitalize on the recent rise in popularity of virtual care, and in turn increase their client base.
Younger Generations Prefer Virtual Care
Today’s youth are growing up as digital natives. They experience the internet as part of their daily lives, and they spend much of their time in front of screens. In turn this has influenced their preferences as they expect convenience, speed, and transparency from their daily interactions. Furthermore, a 2017 LivePerson study found that 65% of Generation Z prefer to communicate online rather than in-person. As healthcare delivery models evolve, providers must take these generational preferences into account. Telehealth services are already the delivery model of choice for millennials, with over 60% of this generation preferring virtual care to in-person visits. Moreover, this number is only expected to rise as Generation Z ages and begins to make their own healthcare decisions. As a result, healthcare providers must be prepared for the increased demand for telehealth services they will experience in the coming years. Implementing an electronic health record with an integrated virtual care option enables providers to cater to the preferences of future generations to meet this need.
Welligent’s Telehealth Offerings
Welligent recognizes the increasing need by both primary care and behavioral healthcare providers to incorporate telehealth services, virtual case conferences, and other methods as tools to support evolving service delivery preferences. Whether dictated by geography, client needs during the current era of social distancing, or generational preferences, Welligent understands the role that telehealth plays to support remote service delivery and engage clients more efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, Welligent is committed to developing innovative telehealth offerings as service delivery models continue to evolve. Welligent partners with Vidyo to integrate Video Conferencing into the Welligent EHR. This partnership enables clinicians and other users to provide virtual care without sacrificing the convenience, safety, or personal touch of a face-to-face encounter.