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Virtual mental health care in the Veterans Health Administration's immediate response to coronavirus disease-19.

Rosen CS, Morland LA, Glassman LH, Marx BP, Weaver K, Smith CA, Pollack S, Schnurr PP. Virtual mental health care in the Veterans Health Administration's immediate response to coronavirus disease-19. The American Psychologist. 2021 Jan 1; 76(1):26-38.

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The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has increased the need for psychological care in the global population and has created new barriers to accessing services. Hospitals, mental health facilities, and other clinics face the challenge of providing continued care to a population that is under severe stress, while minimizing in-person visits that risk spreading the virus. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is the largest integrated health care system in the United States, providing care at 1,286 sites. VHA ensured the continuity of mental health services after the COVID-19 outbreak by rapidly expanding its use of telemental health methods in the first weeks after the U.S. pandemic outbreak. VHA provided nearly 1.2 million telephone and video encounters to veterans in April 2020 and reduced in-person visits by approximately 80% when compared with the October 2019 to February 2020 period before the pandemic. By June 2020, VHA had an 11-fold increase in encounters using direct-to-home video and a fivefold increase in telephone contacts relative to before the pandemic. This article discusses research on the effectiveness of telemental health, VHA policies before COVID-19 that facilitated the use of telemental health systemwide, and VHA's actions that rapidly scaled use of telemental health during the first months of the outbreak. Key challenges and lessons learned from VHA's experience and implications for providers and health care systems regarding the use of telemental health to meet patients' mental health care needs during the pandemic are also discussed. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).

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