The Hispanic/Latino community was the most engaged in telehealth for mental health visits in 2020 – adopting the technology more than any other ethnic or racial group. While telehealth helped close some gaps, data included in Anthem’s State of the Nation’s Mental Health report showed significant differences between communities of color.
- Silver Lining: Telehealth served as a silver lining during the pandemic and a strong alternative to seeing clinicians and counselors in person. Telehealth visits – either via video or phone — for people with an existing mental health condition significantly increased during the height of the pandemic. While telehealth did boost visits during COVID-19, it didn’t make up for the dramatic drop in in-person visits for all races and ethnic groups.
- Gaps: Overall gaps in getting mental health care between races and ethnic groups remained essentially the same before and during COVID. A higher percentage of Hispanic-Latinos were already receiving in-person or telehealth mental health visits before COVID-19. By greatly boosting the numbers of people using telehealth, COVID-19 may have jumpstarted broader adoption of telehealth for mental health conditions – especially with Hispanics/Latinos. In fact, during COVID-19, almost 40 percent of Hispanic/Latino members had a telehealth visit, while White members had 34 percent, Asian members had 33 percent and Black members had 28 percent.
- Differences: “There are likely many reasons behind the differences in mental health care visits – including issues that prevent people from seeking care, such as medical injustices and history of receiving culturally insensitive care,” said Anthem Chief Health Officer, Shantanu Agrawal, MD. “Health equity is a key driver for mental and physical well-being. To achieve equity in our healthcare, we need to understand where and why barriers to health exist, and then couple these insights with the scale and scope of Anthem to drive changes to a new system of health, that puts equity at the center.”
- Disparities: On average, Black people had 7 percent fewer mental health visits compared to White people with similar demographic, clinical, and socio-economic backgrounds. The rates are particularly noteworthy as surveys have indicated that people of color were experiencing more stress and mental health conditions than other populations in 2020 and people of color were disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
- Effective elimination: “While telehealth wasn’t a panacea in eliminating health equity gaps, it helped boost connectivity for all and made Internet visits possible when COVID temporarily closed physical doors, allowing health care to continue to be delivered with some semblance of normalcy,” Agrawal said. “This study is a key reminder that technology alone won’t be sufficient to bridge this gap and the bridge may not be the same for all people. However, it may be the connector needed by certain communities or geographic areas. Clearly, outcomes during the pandemic would have been much worse without telehealth.”