Telehealth Continues to Account for More Than a Third of Outpatient Visits for Mental Health and Substance Use Services Well into the COVID-19 Pandemic


A new analysis from KFF and Epic Research finds that telehealth visits for outpatient mental health and substance use services went from virtually zero percent in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to a peak of 40% in mid-2020 – and continued to account for more than a third (36%) of such visits in the six months ending in August 2021.

The telehealth boom for mental health and substance use services far exceeds the increase recorded over the same period for other outpatient services. As a result, mental health and substance use services accounted for 39% of all telehealth outpatient visits in the six-month period between March and August 2021, about five times the share of all other outpatient visits. This reflects the tremendous increase in need for mental health services as a result of the pandemic, social distancing and ensuing economic turmoil, as well as a return to in-person visits for other outpatient care. 

The analysis examines data from Cosmos, Epic’s HIPAA-defined limited data set of more than 126 million patients from hospitals and clinics across the country. It also examines variations in telehealth use by age, gender and diagnosis.

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