When COVID-19 Shifted Behavioral Healthcare to Telehealth, Hispanic People Adopted it at a Higher Rate

Research June 28, 2022

Telehealth visits for behavioral healthcare* significantly increased during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but not all people adopted the technology equally. Researchers studied whether gaps in behavioral health care access and outcomes changed during the pandemic and whether telehealth availability played a role in any changes.

Findings: Overall gaps in care between races and ethnic groups remained essentially the same before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hispanic people, who were already receiving behavioral health care at higher numbers than other groups before the pandemic, continued to be the highest users as telehealth availability expanded. Black people, who had fewer visits compared to White people before the pandemic, continued to have the fewest visits during the pandemic and have fewer visits delivered via telehealth. There was no difference found between people living in urban or rural areas.

In March-August 2020, telehealth mental health visits were used by:

  • 40% of Hispanic people
  • 34% of White people
  • 33% of Asian people
  • 28% of Black people

Continuity of care was a significant factor associated with behavioral health telehealth use and treatments. People who saw the same providers via in-person and telehealth before and during the pandemic were more likely to use telehealth visits compared to those who switched providers and newly initiated patients. Facilitating telehealth adoption among physicians who have established relationships with people of color could also be beneficial in reducing disparities.

What’s Next: Elevance Health continues to provide access to telehealth and other digital offerings that were crucial to support member health during the pandemic. The learnings from this research also present an opportunity to apply those ideas to ensure people of all races and ethnic groups continue to have access to behavioral healthcare.

“It is encouraging to see that Hispanic people quickly adopted telehealth to maintain their access to behavioral healthcare,” said Winnie Chi, director of population health research, a division of Elevance Health. “Telehealth offers an opportunity to make behavioral healthcare more accessible because of the convenience factor. People have fewer challenges with taking time off work, getting transportation, or arranging childcare; more importantly, telehealth makes it easier for a care companion to join visits to provide translation support which could be very helpful.”

Methodology: The study was based on a claims analysis of adults in 14 states who were insured by Medicaid and had existing behavioral health diagnoses. Their in-person or telehealth behavioral health visits from March 1-Aug. 31, 2019, were compared with their visits from March 1-Aug. 31, 2020.

*Behavioral healthcare delivered via telehealth is found to be equivalently effective as via in-person behavioral healthcare.