Treatment Interruptions and Telemedicine Utilization In Serious Mental Illness: A Retrospective, Longitudinal Claims Analysis


Background: Avoiding interruptions and dropout in outpatient care can prevent mental illness symptom exacerbation and costly crisis services, such as emergency room visits and inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. During the COVID-19 pandemic, to attempt to maintain care continuity, telemedicine services were increasingly utilized, despite the lack of data on efficacy in patients with serious mental illness. Patients with serious mental illness are challenging to enroll and sustain in randomized controlled trials over time due to fluctuations in disease exacerbation. However, capturing and examining utilization and efficacy data in community mental health center (CMHC) patients with serious mental illness during the pandemic is a unique opportunity to inform future clinical and policy decision-making.

Objective: We aimed to identify and describe the characteristics of CMHC patients with serious mental illness who experienced treatment interruptions and who utilized telemedicine during the pandemic.

Methods: We conducted a retrospective observational study of treatment interruptions and telemedicine use during the period from December 2019 to June 2020 (compared to the period from December 2018 to June 2019) in New Hampshire CMHC patients. The study population included all Medicaid beneficiaries with serious mental illness engaged in treatment 3 months prior to the declaration of a state of emergency in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We used chi-square tests of independence and logistic regression to explore associations between treatment interruptions and variables (gender, age, rurality, and diagnosis). Telemedicine utilization was categorized as low (<25%), medium (25%-75%), or high (>75%) use.

Results: A total of 16,030 patients were identified. New Hampshire CMHCs demonstrated only a 4.9% increase in treatment interruptions compared with the year prior. Patients who were male (odds ratio [OR] 1.27, 95% CI 1.17-1.38; P<.001), under the age of 18 years (ages 0-12 years: OR 1.37, 95% CI 0.62-0.86, P<.001; aged 13-17 years: OR 1.49, 95% CI 0.57-0.79, P<.001), or among milder diagnostic categories, such as anxiety disorders (OR 3.77, 95% CI 3.04-4.68; P<.001) and posttraumatic stress disorder (OR 3.69, 95% CI 2.96-4.61; P<.001), were most likely to experience treatment interruptions. Patients who were female (OR 0.89, CI 0.65-0.74), 18 to 34 years old (OR 0.74, CI 0.70-0.79), or among milder diagnostic categories, such as anxiety disorder (OR 0.69, CI 0.65-0.74) or posttraumatic stress disorder (OR 0.77, CI 0.72-0.83), and with major depressive disorder (OR 0.73, CI 0.68-0.78) were less likely to be in the low telemedicine utilization group.

Conclusions: The integration of telemedicine supported care continuity for most CMHC patients; yet, retention varied by subpopulation, as did telemedicine utilization. The development of policies and clinical practice guidelines requires empirical evidence on the effectiveness and limitations of telemedicine in patients with serious mental illness.


Department of Nursing

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Journal of Medical Internet Research: Mental Health

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