Some Americans face social, economic barriers to telebehavioral health

Although outpatient mental health visits on the whole have increased post-pandemic, participation in in-person and audio or video-based mental healthcare varies across sociodemographic groups, according to a study from the New York City-based Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health published Feb. 5.

The study, which pulled from insurance claims, mental health care provider surveys and electronic health records, found that 12.5% of adults received outpatient mental health care in 2021 — 73.6% received in-person care, 33.4% received care through a video visit and 21.4% received in audio-only care.

The study also identified a variety of social and economic barriers to effectively accessing telemental health services, including old age, unemployment, low-income and public insurance. 

"Increasing our understanding of the patterns we observed in terms of access to outpatient mental health care including in-person, telephone-administered, and internet-administered outpatient mental health services could inform ongoing public policy discussions and clinical interventions," researcher Mark Olfson, MD, said. "Identifying low-cost means of connecting lower-income patients to telemental health should be a priority, as well as increasing public investment to make access to high-speed broadband universal."

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