Study shows telehealth effectiveness in behavioral health


Patrick Jones


The Community Mental Health Association of Michigan (CMHA) recently released a study that surveyed the usage and effectiveness of telehealth statewide. The survey found around two-thirds of behavioral health providers were providing more than half their services via telehealth. It also found that 86% of those surveyed want to continue using telehealth in the future. 


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Since the telehealth Medicaid expansion and the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth usage has greatly increased, says the study. In response, CMHA distributed a 16-question online survey on May 17, 2021 — which concluded on June 8 to assess providers’ experience. There were 846 total respondents for the survey which included primary behavioral health service providers and behavioral health service supervisors. 

The majority of the respondents provide case management or support coordination services (41%) or psychotherapy (37%). Around 60% of the respondents serve adults with mental illness and 33% serve adults with substance use disorder (SUD). Some respondents also serve child populations with emotional disturbances (40%). Providers in urban areas made up the majority of the survey and accounted for 62% of the respondents. 

The study says two-thirds of the respondents provided more than half their services via telehealth in the 30 days prior to the survey. 


Image: The Community Mental Health Association of Michigan


The study says at least 60% found video conferencing to be very useful methods for telehealth. All telehealth methods were least useful among providers who serve those with an intellectual and/or developmental disability. The study says a larger percentage of respondents of this group are saying certain methods — like video conferencing or email — are somewhat or very useless. 


Image: The Community Mental Health Association of Michigan



Behavioral health providers generally agree on the importance telehealth has on their care to their patients. The study says around 80% of respondents agree that telehealth is important to their success, is effective in improving patient outcomes, and allows them to reach new clients. 

The study also says 68% of providers agree telehealth increases client satisfaction, engagement, and retention. Telehealth also seems to reduce the number of missed appointments, says 71% of providers. 

However, the respondents highlight concerns and issues with the use of telehealth. Connectivity problems are the highest reported issue with 57% of respondents saying they experience issues with connectivity in video conferencing. 

In terms of quality of care concerns, 66% of respondents say quality was not an issue. However, 14% say it’s an issue in video conferencing and 27% say quality is an issue with phone calls.


Image: The Community Mental Health Association of Michigan


To address these issues, respondents say they change their “service delivery method” — offering audio only or in-person visits — to compensate for whatever issue patients had with their telehealth. Other respondents work with clients to troubleshoot and educate patients around how to use the technology effectively. 

For the future of telehealth, 74% of respondents say they plan to mix telehealth and in-person services after the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 6% say they will only provide in-person services. The study says:

“Overall, providers feel comfortable using telehealth, say they are knowledgeable about telehealth best practices, feel they can provide quality care via telehealth, and believe that telehealth is important to the success of their organization.”