Mental health services in primary care: Evidence for the feasibility of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Journal of Affective Disorders Reports

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Background: This study examined the transition to telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of attendance rates, the provision of evidence-based interventions, and clinical outcomes. Methods: The feasibility of in-person versus telehealth visits for integrated primary care sessions was compared using chart review data. Data on patient characteristics, attendance, symptom severity and improvement, and evidence-based intervention use were collected for patients (N = 173) from an integrated primary clinic that primarily serves a low-income, diverse sample of adults and children whose primary presenting problems are depression and anxiety. Results: Attendance significantly improved after the transition to telehealth, as indicated by fewer cancellations and more appointments attended. Patients showed significant improvement and decreases in symptoms. The quality of care was maintained, as indicated by consistent evidence-based intervention use over time. Limitations: This study was limited by the fact that it took place in an academically-affiliated primary care clinic, which may not be representative of all community settings. In addition, analyses related to clinical symptoms were only conducted with a small subset of participants and there was no comparison group. Conclusions: Telehealth through integrated primary care might be a viable option to improve accessibility of mental health services for low-income, racial/ethnic minority adults and children.