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Telehealth visits lower for Black Americans

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Posted at 3:04 PM, Jul 28, 2021

More people have been reporting feelings of anxiety and depression during the pandemic, but health insurance company Anthem is seeing fewer people getting new diagnoses of mental health issues.

Anthem’s chief health officer, Dr. Shantanu Agrawal, believes diagnoses are being missed, particularly among much younger and older Americans.

When it comes to using telehealth for mental health visits, there are significant differences among communities of color.

“You don't actually solve for equity just by making a new technology available. You know? I believe in order to really address the core disparities and equity issues that we have in American health care, we've got to be purposeful with how we leverage any new solution, any new technology, and we've got to specifically say, ‘OK, how do we address equity with this technology?’” said Dr. Agrawal.

A new analysis from Anthem finds a higher percentage of people in Hispanic and Latino communities were already receiving in-person or telehealth mental health visits before the pandemic.

In 2020, nearly 40% of those in the Hispanic or Latino community with an existing mental health condition had a mental health telehealth visit. That's compared to 28% of Black Americans.

Now, doctors are trying to figure out why the numbers are so much lower for Black Americans.

“With any population, there's always a question of, what is the stigma around mental and behavioral health services? What's the stigma around using those services in getting certain diagnoses? Perhaps in taking prescription medications, that's certainly one thing we're thinking about,” said Dr. Agrawal.

They're also looking at whether patient preferences played into this or the potential that people were getting help through a community organization instead.

Telehealth adoption among states has also varied. Some states and insurers have been putting new barriers on telehealth.

Dr. Agrawal says we are seeing telehealth use go down now, but it’s still much higher than in 2019. He believes it should be up to patients and providers to figure out what works best for them.

You can get connected to mental health assistance by calling the 24-7 helpline for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. That number is 1-800-662-4357.