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Americans Embrace the Shift to Telehealth

  • October 21, 2020
  • Patients and Families

About one in three U.S. adults (31%) have used telehealth services, according to a new poll* from the American Psychiatric Association. Almost three-quarters (72%) of those who have used telehealth services have done so for the first time in the past six months.

Telehealth or telemedicine generally refers to a virtual visit with a health care professional through phone or video, which had been available before, but not widely adopted. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdowns and physical distancing requirements led to a quick shift of most health care services being offered remotely for at least part of the last six months.

The APA poll found that in addition to the third of Americans that have used telehealth services, about four in 10 adults (42%) are familiar with telehealth but have not used it.

While the experience of a virtual doctor’s office visit may be new to many, the poll found that about three in 10 people prefer telehealth services to in-person doctor’s office visits. Virtual visits offer the obvious advantage of being able to take the appointment from any location and avoiding the time, effort, COVID-19 risk, and cost of transportation to an office.

Four in 10 adults feel the quality of care in telehealth can be the same as in-person office visits. Younger adults are slightly more likely than older adults to view the quality of care via telehealth the same as in-person and more likely to prefer telehealth over in-person office visits.

The survey respondents were slightly more likely to say they would use telemedicine for physical health concerns (59%) compared to using telemedicine for mental health concerns (49%). Adults with children are more likely to use telehealth for both physical and mental health care than those without children.

Warm Lines for Mental Health Support

Nearly half (47%) of adults would reach out to a warm line for support if needed, according to the poll. Warm lines, available in most states, are another potential source of mental health support, offering confidential, free phone consultation. Unlike a crisis line or hotline, they are not intended for emergency situations. (Read more about warm lines.)

Help from Chatbots for Mental Health Care?

About a quarter (27%) of survey respondents also said that chatbots are a quick and easy way to receive mental health care services. Chatbots are digital tools that use machine learning and artificial intelligence methods to mimic humanlike behaviors and can participate in conversation. They interact with people using spoken, written, and visual languages. A recent review concluded that chatbots “have the potential to be useful tools for individuals with mental disorders, especially those who are reluctant to seek mental health advice due to stigmatization.” The study found that the most frequently used input method was written language only, and output was most frequently a combination of written, spoken and visual languages.

According to the APA poll, younger adults and those with children are more likely to see the positive mental health care value of chatbots compared to older adults and those without children.

*The poll included questions on anxiety, climate change and mental health, stigma, mental health in the workplace and telehealth. The full results are available here. The findings come from an APA-sponsored poll conducted Sept. 14-16, 2020, using an online omnibus study by ENGINE INSIGHTS among a demographically representative U.S. sample of 1,004 adults 18 years of age and older. The margin of error is +/-3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

More on Telepsychiatry

Read more about telepsychiatry in a recent blog from APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A and at the APA telepsychiatry practice resources page.


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