Opening Doors to Behavioral Health: Teletherapy’s Role in Expanding Access

As reported by Mental Health America, almost one in five people nationwide (47.1 million) are living with a mental health condition. That number increased by about 1.5 million over last year’s report. Additionally, over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. who are going untreated.

In 2020 we launched our Telehealth for Behavioral Health thought leadership which was designed to understand the logistics of the move to virtual therapy.  This year we are exploring the experiences of those who accessed treatment for the first time and used teletherapy to open the door to counseling.  The purpose of this thought leadership is to uncover the impact of teletherapy (video, chat, text, telephone) on accessibility, the customer experience, apps/tools, and intended future use of treatment options.

METHODS

Qualitative one-on-one individual depth interviews/IDIs

  • 24 total IDIs
  • 8 consumers with employer-sponsored health insurance (Group)
  • 8 consumers with Medicare health insurance (Medicare)
  • 8 therapists (Providers)
AUDIENCES

Key consumer characteristics:

  • Started using professional behavioral health services for the first time ever in the past 1-2 years
  • In ongoing therapy
  • The first few full sessions were video, chat, or text (may still be or not)
  • Primary therapy issue is mild-to-moderate in severity
  • A mix of genders, races/ethnicities, regions
  • Pay for therapy through insurance plan

Key provider characteristics:

  • Psychologist, counselor, social worker, therapist (not psychiatrist)
  • Recent ongoing experience with teletherapy, including patients who started therapy for first time ever by teletherapy
OBJECTIVES
  • Has teletherapy opened the door to behavioral health for consumers who never used therapy before?  Why/why not?
  • What are the pros and cons of teletherapy for increasing behavioral health access?
  • What types of consumers are using teletherapy to open the door to behavioral health?
  • What is the decision process and trigger to initiate teletherapy for first-time treatment seekers?
  • How easy or difficult is it to find a teletherapy platform? A behavioral health provider?
  • How many BH providers did you try?  Why?
  • How does the process compare with expectations?
  • Do consumers stay with virtual therapy, switch to in-person, or a mix?  Why?
  • Are the reasons these teletherapy consumers stay with or stop BH the same as for other consumers?
  • How helpful are health plans in communicating how the BH process works?  What should be improved?
  • What regulation changes for therapists, if any, are helping or interfering with BH access?
  • Pros/cons of any apps/digital tools patients use to manage mental health
RESULTS

Results of this study will be available in late Spring 2022. For more information please contact Jeff Mann, Vice President, at jeff@zeldisresearch.com.