Consumer preferences are influencing the health-service delivery model today more than ever before. As the voice of the patient becomes louder, each generation has a different message to share. For younger generations, it’s clear that digital health services are a basic expectation, and we’re discovering this is especially true for behavioral health treatment.
Fortunately, care providers have been embracing the shift toward tele-behavioral health platforms in recent years. The COVID-19 global pandemic served to accelerate that change even more, with behavioral health diagnoses consistently ranking as the top diagnoses represented in telehealth-delivered services month after month in 2020.
And that top ranking wasn’t just a slight edge above the other types of conditions you might expect to see addressed through the application of telehealth. Behavioral health overtook all other categories in telehealth by a landslide.
Tele-behavioral health is effective
The adoption of telehealth makes good clinical sense for behavioral health providers, according to research. Cognitive behavioral therapy and other key interventions delivered through video visits produce positive outcomes, demonstrating efficacy in reducing pain, disability, depression, and anxiety comparable to in-person encounters and without significant risks or adverse effects.
In addition to the fact that tele-behavioral health works, it’s also clear that it’s a great fit for a huge population of U.S. consumers who have long been using digital options for shopping, banking, communicating, and other daily activities. Millennials are currently the largest generational group overall, comprised of more than 72 million people — surpassing even the baby boomers — with Gen Z close behind at 67 million. These two large groups represent the biggest users of tech-enabled tools today.
In 2020, younger Americans turned to their familiar digital channels to manage a variety health issues against a backdrop of isolation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half of those age 14 to 22 said in a recent survey that they used digital tools to connect with health providers, such as doctors, nurses, or therapists, through video appointments, texting, online messaging, or other apps, and 86 percent found the encounters helpful.
Use of digital options was even higher when drilling down to specific behavioral health concerns. Three-fourths of those with moderate to severe depressive symptoms said they used mobile health apps, and 58 percent connected to health providers online.
As more millennial and Gen Z consumers under age 40 interact with the healthcare system, they’re making choices based on their experiences and what works for them. Tele-behavioral health is effective, and it offers a number of advantages that speak to their preferences.
3 Advantages of Tele-Behavioral Health for Millennials and Gen Z
1. Tele-behavioral health is a contactless way to access treatment
Progress in mitigating and preventing COVID-19 still has a way to go. For now, every generation is taking pains to avoid potential exposure to the virus by staying home, limiting interactions with other people, and in some cases, delaying medical care. It might seem obvious, but tele-behavioral health’s main benefit is its remote, contactless environment, which allows patients to initiate or continue treatment for depression, anxiety, and other disorders.
Virtual visits allow patients to follow recommended COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines. Thus, the experience of no travel outside the home, no waiting rooms, and no office visits with closed doors can also provide a sense of safety for patients.
It’s interesting to note that on the provider side, the biggest barriers to telehealth — payment and HIPAA-related restrictions — have eased, at least temporarily. Many predict that telehealth’s success in 2020 will fuel more permanent policy measures to drive its adoption. As more providers offer virtual visits, their acceptance by patients will grow in tandem.
2. Tele-behavioral health is convenient
For the millennial and Gen Z groups with emerging careers, side hustles, frequent housing changes, and young children, time is quite precious. They value any option that’s faster than the prevailing choice and have little patience for cumbersome processes in their everyday matters.
They want everything to be streamlined and contained in a smartphone app whenever possible. They want to access information and end-to-end transactions with the least number of steps.
For example, a millennial worker might use an app to order his favorite spicy burrito for lunch. The app presents the most up-to-date prices, and it knows he frequently requests extra hot sauce and a side of tortilla chips. Conveniently, those items are listed first for his consideration. It also has his delivery address and his payment information saved, making the entire transaction fast and intuitive.
While healthcare service delivery is vastly more complex and exacting than ordering lunch, the under-40 generations still have the same high bar of expectation that they want their healthcare interactions to meet. Tele-behavioral health can offer the convenience of care everywhere, saving them time otherwise spent on travel to and from a provider’s office, sitting in the waiting room, checking in, and completing paperwork — not to mention any time away from work that might also be involved.
Best of all, virtual visits can also overcome access issues in areas where it’s difficult for patients to book convenient appointments with nearby providers because of availability. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis forecasts that by 2025 there will be a shortage of as many as 250,000 mental health professionals. Tele-behavioral health is one of the often recommended solutions that extends the geographic reach of available providers and makes treatment convenient and more accessible for patients.
3. Tele-behavioral health and in-person interaction do not have to be mutually exclusive
People like choices. At any age, choice is the touchstone of the consumer. Millennials and Gen Zers are used to having a long list of choices for their on-screen entertainment, product purchases, and communication channels. They want the same for their healthcare, too.
Tele-behavioral health in many cases can be a choice, complementing the established in-person relationships they have with their providers. A certain percentage of behavioral health patients will prefer in-person visits, but the addition of a virtual option increases choice.
However, some providers might be concerned about the observations that might be lost in a virtual environment versus an in-person setting. Nonverbal cues and body language can be important inputs for the behavioral health professional to consider, but the interpretation of a patient’s tapping foot or slumping posture, for example, is somewhat subjective.
Self-assessments, such as patient check-in apps that can be included in a behavioral health platform, are measurement-based tools that take the guesswork out of tracking patient progress, especially when the patient and provider are connecting via virtual visits. Quantified measures tell more about ongoing treatment success than occasional, subjective observations.
The virtual environment, supported by patient-facing measurement-based tools, can offer just as many if not more contact points, helping to record progress over time. Those measures can help providers effectively refine care plans and enhance outcomes.
Millennial and Gen Z generations are not only open to tele-behavioral health, they want and embrace it. The contactless platform, convenience, and added choice presented by the option satisfy their digital preferences, while also offering proven efficacy.