Remote delivery of mental health care has increased 12-fold since the start of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, according to a new study published in American Psychologist

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused more than 967,000 deaths and there has been over 31.4 million confirmed cases worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Many health care practitioners, including psychologists, had to adjust their practices in order to accommodate social distancing and safety guidelines.  

The study authors surveyed 2619 licensed phycologists across the United States regarding their increased use of telepsychology, which allows for sessions to continue from a physical distance. For many, telepsychology is more convenient than traditional in-person sessions, especially for those with mobility issues or conflicting work schedules.

Investigators found that prior to the pandemic, 7.07% of psychologists’ clinical work was done with telepsychology. During the pandemic, that number rose to 85.53% of their clinical work being done with telepsychology. 

According to the study, 67.32% of respondents said that all of their clinical work was being done with telepsychology. After the pandemic, psychologists predict that 34.96% of their clinical work will be done using telepsychology. 

A larger increase in the adoption of telepsychology was seen among women, which may be because women have historically provided the bulk of the childcare, according to the study. 

"No other event in modern history has altered to this extent the landscape of psychological service provision," study co-author Paul Perrin, PhD, said in the press release. “Many of the barriers to telepsychology use that have been touted for years have now been dramatically lessened or even fully removed, and we are seeing an unprecedented rollout of technology-based mental health treatment. The field of psychology has put forth a substantial effort to adapt to the demands of the pandemic and unmet mental health needs that are being uncovered across the US."

A more than 26-fold increase was seen in psychologists working in outpatient treatment facilities. However, those working in the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) only saw a 7-fold increase, most likely due to the high rates of telepsychology use in VA medical centers prior to the pandemic. The lowest increase in telepsychology was seen in rural areas and in settings that specialize in antisocial personally disorder, testing and evaluation, and rehabilitation populations, according to the study. 

Reference:
COVID-19 sparks 12-fold increase in remote delivery of mental health care across the US [News Release] September 2, 2020. Richmond, VA. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-09/vcu-cs1090220.php. Accessed September 23, 2020.