Background: The COVID-19 pandemic triggered changes across health care systems, with many sectors seeing significant drops in patient visits . Rapid transition to telemental health (TMH) allowed for the continued delivery of mental health care . Although several guidelines and best practices are available for the methodical development of a TMH service, there are few documented procedures on rapidly converting to fully virtualized services . We discuss how two outpatient mental health clinics at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus rapidly virtualized clinical services during the COVID-19 pandemic .
Methods: All current clinical appointments were converted to virtual, and all new clinical intakes were scheduled as virtual visits starting March 16 , 2020 . Virtualization included a modified needs assessment, updated clinic procedures, focused patient and staff training on TMH, and increased frequency of team meetings . We conducted a retrospective evaluation of clinic log and electronic health record data to examine the number of appointments and no-shows before and after COVID-19 virtualization .
Results: Virtualization was operational within two business days . Scheduled appointments decreased 10.6% immediately postvirtualization, followed by an increase of 17.8% across the 6 months postvirtualization . No-show rates dropped from 11.9% pre- to 6.8% postvirtualization, leading to a 26.2% increase in completed visits .
Discussion: Rapid virtualization of mental health services can occur effectively . Wider use and acceptance of TMH, especially to patient-homes, is likely in the foreseeable future as health care providers and systems reconceptualize service delivery . Future research must include analyzing the impact such changes make on clinical outcomes and patient visit volumes.
Index: behavioral health, pandemic, telehealth, telemedicine, telepsychiatry