CultureFriday 02.11.22

Can Telehealth Close the Mental Healthcare Gap?

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Telehealth use exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially for mental and behavioral health services. But recent studies show telemedicine runs a risk of exacerbating inequities in mental healthcare, either in access to care or health outcomes. The problem is especially bad in rural communities, where there’s around 1 psychiatrist for every 30,000 people and 1 in 3 residents lack access to reliable, high-speed internet. Telehealth was supposed to be the great equalizer. But in order to solve the issue of mental health access, we need to first address what’s been a persistent problem in the United States: the rural digital divide. The good news? President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law allocates $65 billion to improve broadband access and reduce internet costs. The bad news? The federal government still doesn’t have a clear picture of the scope of broadband access around the country, using inaccurate, outdated maps that overstate where high-speed internet is delivered in the United States. Another problem holding back widespread adoption of telepsychiatry is insurance: During the Covid-19 pandemic, insurers began reimbursing mental healthcare providers for virtual care at the same rate as in-person visits. But many of those changes are temporary and will end when the current Federal Public Health Emergency expires in mid-April. “The more that the government can focus on sustainable reimbursement, the better,” says Anna Lindow, CEO and Co-Founder of Brave Health. “That is what draws providers in. And that's what makes providers think creatively.”

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