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Mental health treatment and the role of tele-mental health at the veterans health administration during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zhang J, Boden M, Trafton J. Mental health treatment and the role of tele-mental health at the veterans health administration during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Services. 2022 May 1; 19(2):375-385.
To quantify overall trends in patients treated for mental health disorders and adverse events, including via tele-mental health (TMH) and psychopharmacology during pandemic-related health care transformation. Longitudinal observational study including veterans receiving mental health treatment at a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facility from January 1, 2017 to June 16, 2020. Observed and expected patient care for on-going and new treatment of depression, posttraumatic stress, substance use disorder, severe mental illness diagnoses, overdose, and suicide attempts, and psychotropic prescriptions for antidepressant, antipsychotic, benzodiazepine, opioid, and mood stabilizing medications are depicted. Percent change between actual and expected counts in the early months of the COVID pandemic (March 18-May 5, 2020) are computed. Decreases in counts of patients receiving mental health treatment early in the pandemic ranged from 7% to 20% for on-going treatment, and 28% to 37% for new treatment. TMH rapidly expanded across VHA, becoming the primary means by which encounters were delivered. Counts of patients receiving on-going care for suicide attempts were stable, and for overdoses, decreased by 17%. Counts of patients initiating care for suicide attempts and overdoses decreased by 30% and 38%, respectively. Weekly prescriptions and medication on-hand for psychotropics ranged from a 2% decrease to a 4% increase. New patient prescribing decreased 21%-50%. VHA and other large healthcare systems will need to expand outreach and continue to develop TMH services to maintain care continuity and initiate care for existing and new patients during COVID-19 and future large-scale outbreaks, epidemics, and disasters. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).