Demand for Behavioral Health Services Accelerated During COVID-19, Virtual Visit Adoption Soared


March 4th, 2021

A new study of claims data from 2020 reveals high demand for virtual behavioral health services during the pandemic. Get insights on this data trend.

behavioral health services

It’s no secret that the pandemic has had physical and mental health consequences. While the physical toil data may be more apparent, a new study of claims data looks at the latter. Cigna, one of the country’s biggest health insurance providers, published a new study analyzing behavioral health services claims. The study found that 97% of people had never had a prior claim for it, demonstrating the demand for this treatment. 

About the Study and Its Findings

The study entitled, One-Year Impact of COVID-19: Surging Use of Virtual and Behavioral Health, looked at the pandemic’s impact on mental health and care delivery. Cigna assessed claims data from March to May 2020, the first three months of the pandemic when information was scarce. 

The analysis found some other critical data points in addition to the huge jump in first-time patients seeking behavioral health services.

Antidepressant Use Increases

According to the data, the use of antidepressants increased by 7.9%. It also revealed that 32% of patients taking them had no history of taking them in the six months prior.

Who Sought Out Behavioral Health Services?

The majority (63%) of those seeking help were women. That number rose from 48% pre-pandemic. The age groups most seeking help were the youngest populations. Almost half, 45%, of patients were under the age of 30.

Most Behavioral Health Patients Using Telehealth

Cigna also revealed that 60% of its members are using telehealth to receive care. Before the pandemic, virtual visits compromised only 1% of all claims. Now virtual visits represent two-thirds of behavioral care sessions. 

That change signifies the adoption of telehealth by patients. Below, you can see the rates of adoption, which are all astronomical. 

cigna behavioral health care adoption rate

Image: Cigna

Cigna also followed up on this trend throughout the year. They found it was consistent, with around 66% of all behavioral health claims virtual. 

How Do Patients Feel About Virtual Visits?

In the report, Cigna also included data from its Evernorth Opinion Research survey. Over half, 58%, are comfortable with virtual visits. The leading reasons they prefer it revolve around convenience, fewer costs, and enabled long-distance care. Patients also are ready for healthcare at home, with 76% believing that virtual care is the future. 

Behavioral Telehealth Is Positive for the Workplace, Too

Behavioral health challenges can be just as demanding as physical ones. Often with support, workers can reduce missed days and positively impact their productivity. Cigna included stats from a separate study focusing on the workplace. The results showed a 45% decrease in missed workdays for telehealth patients. 

Final Thoughts on Behavioral Health Services

With the right access, individuals can thrive when addressing mental health concerns. With virtual delivery of behavioral health services, all stakeholders benefit—consumers, payers, providers, and employers. 

The demand for telehealth is not likely to fade post-pandemic. Patient consumers appreciate the convenience, and more people suffering may be likely to feel more comfortable with this route. What’s for sure is that behavioral health services can make all the difference in working through uncertainty and trauma. 

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