Availability of Mental Telehealth Services in the US

Importance

Telehealth utilization for mental health care remains much higher than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic; however, availability may vary across facilities, geographic areas, and by patients’ demographic characteristics and mental health conditions.

Objective

To quantify availability, wait times, and service features of telehealth for major depressive disorder, general anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia throughout the U.S., as well as facility-, client-, and county-level characteristics associated with telehealth availability.

Design, Settings, and Participants

Cross-sectional analysis of a secret shopper survey of mental health treatment facilities (MHTFs) throughout all U.S. states except Hawaii from December 2022 and March 2023. A nationally representative sample of 1938 facilities were contacted; 1404 (72%) responded and were included. Data analysis was performed from March to July 2023.

Exposure

Health facility, client, and county characteristics.

Main Outcome and Measures

Clinic-reported availability of telehealth services, availability of telehealth services (behavioral treatment, medication management, and diagnostic services), and number of days until first telehealth appointment. Multivariable logistic and linear regression analyses were conducted to assess whether facility-, client-, and county-level characteristics were associated with each outcome.

Results

Of the 1221 facilities (87%) accepting new patients, 980 (80%) reported offering telehealth. Of these, 97% (937 facilities) reported availability of counseling services; 77% (726 facilities), medication management; and 69% (626 facilities) diagnostic services. Telehealth availability did not differ by clinical condition. Private for-profit (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 1.75; 95% CI, 1.05-2.92) and private not-for-profit (aOR, 2.20; 95% CI, 1.42-3.39) facilities were more likely to offer telehealth than public facilities. Facilities located in metropolitan counties (compared with nonmetropolitan counties) were more likely to offer medication management services (aOR, 1.83; 95% CI, 1.11-3.00) but were less likely to offer diagnostic services (aOR, 0.67; 95% CI, 0.47-0.95). Median (range) wait time for first telehealth appointment was 14 (4-75) days. No differences were observed in availability of an appointment based on the perceived race, ethnicity, or sex of the prospective patient.

Conclusions and Relevance

The findings of this cross-sectional study indicate that there were no differences in the availability of mental telehealth services based on the prospective patient’s clinical condition, perceived race or ethnicity, or sex; however, differences were found at the facility-, county-, and state-level. These findings suggest widespread disparities in who has access to which telehealth services throughout the US.

Research conducted by

This report is part of the RAND external publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

RAND is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND’s publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.

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