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Mental health needs have gone up during pandemic, but so has access

Is it the pandemic? Is it the sudden access that didn't exist before? Either way, more people are getting help for mental health concerns.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — The pandemic has done many things, some of them actually good.
Out of necessity, and safety, we moved to mostly virtual doctor visits.
That move has broken down barriers, especially for people who need access to mental health care. The folks at Health Partners say it's been a game-changer.

“At first, when I heard about it, I was kind skeptical because I was like how is this even going to work?" says Rachel Krejci.

For years, Rachel has been receiving care at Melrose Center for eating disorders. Then, like with everything else, the pandemic forced a pivot.

“Pretty quickly we were able to move to video visits and that has been a really good option for me to continue to receive the care that I need,” she says.

Virtual visits have become the norm. Once Health Partners made the switch, providers, specifically mental health care providers, started noticing something significant.

“What we noticed is that our no-show rates, that means times patients weren't able to make it to their appointment, really dropped to almost zero,” says Dr. Josh Zimmerman, Medical Director of Behavior Health at Health Partners.

“Let's say your kid is sick, let’s say your bus line gets cancelled, let's say there's terrible traffic and there's construction, all of those might be reasons you couldn't make it to your appointment because life happens,” says Dr. Zimmerman.

Not only did appointment cancellations go down, but the number of people wanting appointments went up, in some cases by double digit percentages. An increased need combined with an increase in accessibility means more people are getting mental health care.

“Maybe someone would feel hesitant about driving to a new clinic they've never been to before to see someone for depression for the first time and now they can actually do it at home,” says Dr. Zimmerman.

Dr. Zimmerman says they've also been able to try new things, like virtual in-home visits for patients who would normally have to drive to the clinic for specialty programs. All that said, virtual is not for everybody. There are still those who don't have good access to the internet, or children who need assessment or testing and of course those who just miss that human connection.

“I think in the future, patient choice will remain in the cornerstone of what we're doing, and we would like to offer a blend of both in-person and virtual visits,” Dr. Zimmerman says.

“I think we've all felt a little fatigue doing everything over video so being able to have a mixture of both would be nice going forward,” says Rachel.

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