New data released last month by Blue Cross Blue Shield revealed that between March 2020 and March 2021, the company accounted for 8 million telehealth visits, an uptick of 9,500 percent from the prior year. Given the state of the world during the year in which these figures were recorded, it’s not surprising that the popularity of telehealth skyrocketed. What is particularly interesting though, is that of those 8 million telehealth visits, 54 percent were focused on mental health issues. Before the pandemic, many behavioral health providers lagged behind primary care and physical health providers in their adoption of telehealth, and many patients believed face-to-face interaction was key to the success of their mental health treatment. The events of 2020 have greatly accelerated adoption on both sides of telemental health services and it’s doubtful that adoption will decrease with the return of pre-pandemic normalcy.

One of the key factors in accelerating telemental health services was the consumer demand. Research shows that the COVID-19 crisis has had an adverse effect on the mental health of many. According to the CDC, about 40 percent of U.S. adults reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the pandemic, up from 10 percent the year before. And when you look at communities of color, those numbers are even worse, reflecting the disproportionately high rates of coronavirus cases and deaths among Black and Hispanic communities.

Blue Cross Blue Shield data also revealed that spending on substance use disorder services went up by 10 percent from March 2020 to March 2021. Given that nearly 1 in 4 adults (23%) reported drinking more alcohol to cope with their stress during the coronavirus pandemic, the correlation makes sense.

As Lionrock has long touted, telehealth delivery of mental health care, including SUD treatment, has many benefits without losing any of the efficacy of in-person treatment. From BCBS’s recent survey, it seems many of their members have realized those benefits, citing the convenience and added flexibility that virtual care offers. Providers have also noted fewer cancellations or missed appointments. And according to Amwell data, 62 percent of consumers would prefer a virtual visit for their regular mental health visits, even after the pandemic is over.

You can find more information on Lionrock treatment services, including our Online Intensive Outpatient Program and our Ascend Online Outpatient Program on our website. If you are an employer or benefit broker and are interested in working with us, please learn more about partnering with us here.