When the COVID-19 emergency hit the U.S. in March, behavioral health organizations quickly pivoted their operations out of necessity.
Treatments that had traditionally been delivered in person were reimagined remotely in an effort to reduce the risk of virus transmission. Federal and state flexibilities made it possible, paving the way for the wider adoption of telehealth.
That widespread remote behavioral health care delivery won’t disappear in a post-pandemic world, according to a new survey by the National Council for Behavioral Health and Qualifacts, an electronic health record (EHR) provider for behavioral health and human services organizations.
Of the 1,000 behavioral health and human services providers polled for the survey, 70% said they plan to continue delivering at least 40% of their care virtually going forward.
That’s in stark contrast to pre-pandemic rates.
Before March, only about 3% of behavioral health providers were delivering that much care remotely.
Still post-pandemic, virtual care delivery rates will pale in comparison to what they are today: According to the survey, more than 60% of organizations are currently providing at least 80% of their care virtually.
While that spike in virtual care delivery has allowed for continuity of care and decreased no-show rates amid the COVID-19 emergency, it has also come at a cost. Amid the pandemic, most providers have seen significant revenue reduction from mid-March.
In fact, 64% of providers reported decreased revenue of varying degrees, according to the survey. Inpatient programs were hit the hardest, as well as those that care for patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“This major reduction of inpatient programs – often the most profitable of service lines for organizations — played a significant role in the overall revenue reduction of many survey respondents,” the authors of the report wrote. “And, in the case of agencies that care for individuals with developmental disabilities, that loss of income was particularly acute as they had to shutter campuses completely for an indefinite period of time leading to a loss of in-the-moment revenue, but an inability to project the costs around reopening and re-onboarding furloughed or laid-off staff.”
To make post-pandemic virtual care delivery possible, survey respondents said they would need to get telehealth platforms that comply with state and federal regulations when those begin being enforced again. Additionally, 20% of respondents said they would need to change EHR vendors to support new virtual care offerings.