Telehealth Still Plays Key Role in Mental Health and Substance Use Treatment


According to this Kaiser Family Foundation and Epic Research report, telehealth was used for less than 1% of outpatient care visits before the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal agencies introduced several new flexibilities in response to the pandemic for the use of telehealth to access care, particularly for mental health and substance use treatment. By the middle of 2020, telehealth was used for 40% of mental health and substance use outpatient care visits, and has continued to account for 36% of outpatient mental health and substance use visits in 2021.

The continued use of telehealth aligns with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) new policies extending some of the flexibilities for telehealth services introduced during the pandemic, including:

  • Adding the patient’s home as an allowable originating site for telehealth delivery of mental health and substance use services
  • Adding exceptions to the in-person visit requirement for telehealth services
  • Including audio-only communications technology as an “interactive telecommunications system for telehealth services”

Extending these flexibilities gives CMS, policymakers, and other stakeholders more time to gather data and consider key decisions for the permanent addition of these flexibilities to the Medicare telehealth services list.

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