Survey: Americans Want Mental Healthcare via Telehealth, but Security of Data Worries Patients
Amid rising mental health struggles for many during the COVID-19 pandemic, a survey from leading healthcare cybersecurity firm CynergisTek reveals that nearly a majority of Americans (46 percent) would embrace telehealth widely for mental health and therapy sessions, but worry most about their behavioral health data being exposed by hackers.
"What's surprising here is how open Americans are to mental healthcare via telemedicine, highlighting how providers should double down on offering wider access to mental healthcare through virtual visits," said Caleb Barlow, president and CEO of CynergisTek. "This not only opens up new, flexible options for patients -- who can see their providers within the comfort of their own homes -- but it also enables providers to create greater efficiencies, streamline patient queues and expand their reach to new patients."
Nearly Half of Americans Willing to Try Mental Telehealth; Millennials, GenX and Women Far More Receptive to Teletherapy
Attitudes towards telehealth, especially in mental healthcare, have shifted dramatically as Americans increasingly seek out virtual visits with seeing behavioral health professionals. When considering telehealth use for non-urgent care, Americans would most likely consider using it for mental health sessions (46 percent), followed by chronic care check-ups (29 percent) and annual physical and children's wellness exams (27 percent). When drilling down into other key groups, it was found that:
Only 22 percent of respondents would consider delaying mental health appointments vs. the nearly 40 percent would delay annual exams and more than 40 percent of respondents would consider delaying eye exams, dentists appointments and cosmetic procedures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Access to mental healthcare is essential, especially during these times, as individuals of all ages are experiencing increased social isolation, anxiety and depression related to COVID-19. However, it's mandatory that providers balance technology use with security measures to protect data," said Barlow.
Telehealth tools have always been around, but lack of reimbursement stymied progress and limited incentive to use these solutions for critically resource-challenged areas like mental health. With COVID-19 spurring regulators to authorize reimbursements for virtual visits, mental health professionals are scrambling to keep up with the demand.
Studies have found that switching to telemental health doesn't come at the cost of efficacy. Expanding use of mental health services through telehealth can be a boon for rural, underserved communities and can close healthcare inequity gaps among lower socio-economic communities who may not have access to transportation or can't take time off work to see a mental health professional.
Nearly 1 in 2 Americans Very Concerned About Privacy and Breached Mental Health Data
The survey also found that although the vast majority of Americans are receptive to using telehealth for mental healthcare needs, patients could be easily scared off should their sensitive behavioral health data be breached. Respondents indicated they are most concerned about their mental health data being exposed in a data breach than any other type of data (44 percent).
As telehealth surges in use, hackers haven't been on the sidelines waiting for the pandemic subside. A recent report found the number of attacks on telehealth vendors has increased by 117 percent, highlighting how cyber adversaries are looking to new modes of entry to exploit emerging vulnerabilities with the expanded use of technology.
"It's exciting to see such change taking place so rapidly which benefits both patients and providers, especially on mental healthcare which is out of reach for so many," said David Finn, executive vice president of strategic innovation of CynergisTek. "However, nonmedical technology platforms like Zoom won't cut it when protecting the privacy of patients. Providers must invest in secure platforms that ensure sensitive health data isn't hijacked, creating distrust in telehealth and the system overall."
"Telemental health is here to stay. We've heard feedback from many patients who try at-home services for the first time and say things like 'You mean, I could have been accessing my sessions this way all along?'," said Jim Varrell, Chief Medical Officer of InSight + Regroup, a national telepsychiatry provider organization. "Making the patient and clinician experience with telemental health as secure as possible is essential as the patient-clinician relationship must be safe and private."
CynergisTek's survey was conducted between June 24-26 2020, and includes 5,005 U.S. adults, ages 18+.
CynergisTek is a top-ranked cybersecurity firm dedicated to serving the information assurance needs of the healthcare industry. CynergisTek offers specialized services and solutions to help organizations achieve privacy, security, and compliance goals. Since 2004, the company has served as a partner to hundreds of healthcare organizations and is dedicated to supporting and educating the industry by contributing to relevant industry associations. The company has been recognized by KLAS as a top-performing firm in healthcare cybersecurity and was awarded the 2019 Top Healthcare Cybersecurity Consultants in Black Book IT Advisory Outcomes Survey.
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