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Telehealth's Biggest Growth Sector: Behavioral Health


Reports, initiatives, and investments made August a big month for the growing field.

telehealth, population health, telehealth behavioral health 2017, telehealth mental, healthcare analytics news

Behavioral and mental health seem like a natural fit for telehealth’s capabilities: remote, convenient, and instantaneous in case of crisis, unbound by a patient’s locality. The month of August has been a standout month for behavioral telehealth, between government programs, studies, and private companies starting initiatives or investing in others.

The National Business Group on Health released a report on the 8th of this month that highlighted the progress. A full 96% of employers plan to cover some form of telehealth for their employees in 2018, with 56% reportedly willing to do so for behavioral health. That number represents a doubling from the number of employers who did so this year.

Before that, it was an announced collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the White House on the VA Video Connect tool. The service is intended to expand the VA’s telehealth reach, already the nation’s largest, with special emphasis on mental healthcare. The issue is of particular interest to the VA population.

“This will significantly expand access to care for our Veterans, especially for those who need help in the area of mental health…and also in suicide prevention,” Donald Trump said at the time.

Another pressing, topical issue that behavioral health via telemedicine may have potential for is the opioid crisis. As a dangerous behavioral health condition, counseling is often necessary to help patients beat addiction. The drug epidemic’s particularly shattering effects on rural communities that may lack for licensed therapists and counselors makes behavioral telehealth an even more compelling option. The President announced plans to declare the opioid crisis a national emergency earlier this month, though has yet to file the necessary paperwork with Congress.

For their part, more private telehealth companies are beginning to offer consultation for mental health. TelaCare, a growing telehealth company based in Indianapolis, today announced that it would begin offering access to licensed therapists on September 1st. “It has become one of the most successful of all the telemedicine applications because its practitioners don't need to touch their patients to treat them," TelaCare’s CEO, Larry Jones, said in a statement. The company claims to be the first to offer such services at no additional cost.

That comes two days after AbleTo, a company solely focused on providing behavioral telehealth services, announced a successful funding round that drew $36.6 million in new investment, led by Bain Capital Ventures and Aetna.

Such investments make sense. With so many underserved individuals who may benefit from behavioral health, and with more and more employers and institutions offering coverage, the field will only continue to grow, perhaps above its already impressive rate: a Health Affairs study from May found that between 2004 and 2014, the number of telehealth mental health consults grew 45.1% annually.

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