Evidence Base for Telehealth


As part of healthcare transformation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has greatly expanded. Many see this rapid expansion of telehealth not only as a solution to the current problem, but also as “an innovation whose time has come.” Rapid legislative and regulatory changes to payment and privacy requirements have been implemented. Of particular note are the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services temporary waivers and new rules that expanded access to care and facilitated payment for a wider range of telehealth services, including various behavioral health services. Changes in State policy and payment have also been important to expanding the delivery of behavioral health care via telehealth.

AHRQ has produced a white paper commentary summarizing the evidence from AHRQ-funded reports on telehealth published in 2016 and 2019. This commentary identifies two high-level findings:

  • Telehealth is beneficial for specific uses and patient populations, and
  • The evidence of benefit was concentrated in specific uses.

Specific applications relevant to behavioral health include:

  • Remote home monitoring for patients with chronic conditions
  • Counseling for patients with chronic conditions, and
  • Psychotherapy as part of behavioral health care.

This paper helps provide evidence of and context for the rapid expansion of telehealth in primary care, mental health, and treatment of substance use disorders. It also identifies the needs for research to help grow and develop the evidence base for telehealth.