The impact of COVID-19 on mental wellness is unavoidable for many Pennsylvanians. The pandemic has led to a disruption in daily routines, job losses, financial challenges, and social restrictions—all of which add to the stress and anxiety generated by the health threat of the virus itself.
In a recent national poll by Morning Consult, 33% of respondents said their mental health has gotten somewhat or much worse since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, and 49% said they have felt personally challenged by general stress and anxiety related to the pandemic.
Seeking help for mental health issues during a pandemic is a challenge when many are homebound. That dynamic has led to increased demand for telehealth services, and some health insurers are responding to meet that demand.
Capital BlueCross, a leading insurer in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley, is offering free visits on its Virtual Care app through June 15 for members whose coverage plans include the benefit. Virtual Care not only offers medical visits, but also provides psychiatric and counseling visits by smartphone, tablet or computer in real time 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“The toll of the pandemic on mental wellness is completely understandable given the challenging circumstances so many of us face,” said Dr. Jennifer Chambers, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Capital BlueCross. “Thankfully, we have the technology to provide the help people need even if they are unable to see a medical professional in person.”
Counseling services offered through Capital BlueCross’ Virtual Care are provided by licensed psychologists and master’s degree-level counselors. Psychiatric services are provided by board-certified psychiatrists and neurologists, who are able to provide a thorough assessment and medication management if needed.
The insurer is encouraging members who need nonemergency healthcare to use telehealth for covered services with in-network providers, and it has expanded the types of providers whose services are covered through telehealth during the health emergency.
During the pandemic, telehealth users can connect by either phone or video with a healthcare provider. It’s not limited to a specific platform, app, or provider. Members may contact their in-network doctors directly to find out how to schedule a phone or video appointment.
Even after the pandemic, Virtual Care and other telehealth services seem likely to become part of our routine healthcare. Providing healthcare services remotely is more convenient for many, and when it comes to mental wellness, telehealth can be a welcome option for those who might be reluctant to seek help through conventional doctor visits.
“Virtual Care counseling and psychiatric services provide added convenience and privacy, which may help some move past the stigma around mental wellness and seek help,” Dr. Chambers said. “There is simply no need to hide or ignore mental health issues when help is available that can help improve your quality of life.”