A new analysis from KFF and Epic Research finds that telehealth visits for outpatient mental health and substance use services went from virtually zero percent in 2019 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic to a peak of 40% in mid-2020 – and continued to account for more than a third (36%) of such visits in the six months ending in August 2021.

The telehealth boom for mental health and substance use services far exceeds the increase recorded over the same

period for other outpatient services (above left). As a result, mental health and substance use services accounted for 39% of all telehealth outpatient visits in the six-month period between March and August 2021, about five times the share of all other outpatient visits. This reflects the tremendous increase in need for mental health services as a result of the pandemic, social distancing and ensuing economic turmoil, as well as a return to in-person visits for other outpatient care.

The same survey showed that rural residents were far more likely to rely on telehealth for outpatient mental health and SUD treatment than urban residents (above right). From March to August 2021, rural residents received 55% of outpatient visits via telehealth. Data for the analysis came from Cosmos, Epic’s HIPAA-defined limited data set of more than 126 million patients from hospitals and clinics across the country.