Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Last year saw a sharp increase in the number of telehealth visits, especially for mental health. A new claims analysis from Cigna shows not only a tremendous increase in the number of virtual services, but that workplace productivity actually improves with access to virtual behavioral health services.
According to the data from the Cigna analysis, prior to the pandemic, telehealth services made up 1 percent of all medical and behavioral health office visits. After the pandemic however, 1 in 5 primary care visits and 2 out of 3 behavioral health visits were conducted virtually.
Overall, there was a 27 percent increase in outpatient treatment for behavioral health. Women accounted for the largest portion of patients at 63 percent. Prior to the pandemic, women accounted for 48 percent of behavioral health patients. Patients under the age of 30 accounted for 45 percent of behavioral health patients in 2021. Prior to the pandemic, 27 percent of behavioral health patients were aged 18 to 29.
Social work, psychiatry, counseling, and speech therapy were the top specialty categories of behavioral health with virtual visits. Telehealth visits accounted for 54 percent of social work visits, 52.3 percent of psychiatry visits, 50.5 percent of counseling sessions, and 49 percent of speech therapy sessions. The percentage of virtual visits for medical specialties were not as high as behavioral health. Internal medicine had the highest percentage at 26.9 percent, followed by family medicine at 19.7 percent.
The specialties with the lowest number of virtual visits included pediatrics at 12 percent. Otolaryngology came in second at 5.7 percent, followed by ophthalmology and optometry at 4.2 and 2.2 percent respectively. Only 3.2 percent of physical therapy visits were performed by virtual means. Virtual visits for podiatry totaled 1.3 percent, and .3 percent for chiropractic care.
Attitudes toward virtual care have changed as well, especially in patients aged 35 to 44. Seventy-six percent of patients felt that there would be an increase in virtual healthcare in the future. Of those that expected an increase in virtual healthcare, 81 percent fell in the 35 to 44 age category.
Additionally, 58 percent of patients were comfortable with virtual care in lieu of an in-person visit. Forty-seven percent stated that the ability to remain at home or work was a leading factor in the acceptance of virtual care. Decreased cost was the reasoning for 44 percent, and free virtual follow-ups was the reason given for 37 percent. Travel considerations was the reason given by 35 percent.
The availability of virtual behavioral health services is having a positive effect on workers, as 49 percent of patients indicated better productivity at work, and many reported fewer missed workdays. Virtual health users had a 48 percent decrease in the number of sick days compared to a 28 percent decrease for those that did not use virtual behavioral health.
The analysis results are available on the Cigna website.