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Behavioral Health

The Impact of COVID-19 and the Emerging Role of Virtual Health Solutions

The increasing prevalence of behavioral health issues continues to be a top concern for employers. Meeting the needs of your employees facing mental health challenges takes looking at the bigger picture in order to better treat the whole person. The critical first step is understanding the full scope of behavioral health conditions, their impact on your workforce, and how the COVID-19 pandemic is already factoring in.

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1 IN 5


experience a diagnosable mental illness in any given year — more than half will go untreated1


workdays missed

due to mental illness each year2



in productivity due to mental illness each year2

A challenging time

As we continue adjusting to the new normal of COVID-19, it’s important to keep an eye on the effect this pandemic is having on behavioral health. With so many of us worried about not just the disease itself, but its effect on our ability to keep working, data shows that certain behaviors are on the rise since the outbreak began — especially among the younger generations.


are very or extremely worried about the coronavirus

Millennials (37%) Boomers (22%)3


report losing their job since the start of the pandemic


report having a CDC-identified underlying condition that puts them at greater risk

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Behavioral change since the pandemic began

The pandemic is affecting us all, with 93% reporting at least one behavior change since the outbreak began.3 The good news is that virtual care has increased 1.6x since summer 2019, with half that growth from the COVID-19 pandemic.4


used telehealth since the pandemic started 

Millennials (30%) used telehealth 2x more than Boomers (15%)


started speaking with a therapist, counselor, or mental health professional

Gen Z (17%)
Millennials (13%)


of people with behavioral health conditions are continuing therapy services during COVID-193 

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Breaking down barriers to better care

To improve their health and well-being, employees want easier access to behavioral care. A big part of the solution is virtual care — telehealth, behavioral therapy, digital tools, and apps. These tools help screen members for behavioral health conditions and offer personalized resources and treatment options. Virtual care is effective, provides multiple ways for members to connect with the right clinicians for their needs, and can sometimes help even more than traditional face-to-face sessions.


COVID-19 pushes digital wellness into the mainstream

Telehealth, remote visits with a health care provider through technology, has transformed from an emerging industry trend to best practice. In 2018, only 18% of doctors were using telehealth. Now that number is 48%. Despite its benefits, telehealth historically only accounts for a small fraction of total outpatient behavioral health visits here in Western New York.

As the COVID-19 pandemic causes new levels of stress and isolation (and makes it harder for those who need behavioral care to meet providers in person), telehealth and other digital tools can assist with treatment for milder cases of stress and help employees manage their mental health whenever and wherever they need it.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York has seen a major shift from in-office behavioral health treatment to telehealth-based treatment. Before March 2020, telehealth visits accounted for only half a percent of all mental health visits — but from March to June 2020, 62% of outpatient mental health appointments were telehealth. The dedicated behavioral health providers in the BlueCross BlueShield network rapidly adjusted so members could receive care during this uniquely difficult time.

Responding to an emerging need

Although telehealth is now readily available and effective, awareness of using it for behavioral health care remains low. After a recent member awareness campaign, BlueCross BlueShield experienced a 23% increase in use of its telemedicine service, Doctor on Demand®. Doctor on Demand offers video visits with board-certified US health care providers. From March to June 2020, BlueCross BlueShield also saw a year-over-year increase of 524% in video or phone behavioral health consultations.

BlueCross BlueShield care management programs are available remotely by phone or through our Wellframe® app, a free digital platform for communicating with a care manager, viewing educational content, getting medication reminders, and more.

BlueCross BlueShield also offers members myStrength, a fully self-guided digital behavioral health app from Livongo®. myStrength empowers users to combat anxiety, depression, chronic pain, sleep challenges, heightened stress and feelings of social isolation due to COVID-19, and overall mental health.

To reward quality mental health and substance-use disorder treatment, BlueCross BlueShield recently partnered with Value Network, a behavioral health care collaborative with more than 100 area providers, to create the region’s first behavioral health value-based payment agreement.

What the future holds for telehealth in a post-COVID world is unknown, but for the foreseeable future it’s a great option for those seeking behavioral health care.

For For questions or more information, please call 1-877-878-8785 (TTY 711) or contact your broker on your BlueCross BlueShield account executive.