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The Climb

COVID-19 and Expansion of Telehealth: How Treatment Center Executives and Investors Can Respond to Modern Economic Challenges

Mar 19, 2020 12:05:56 PM / by Jason Batten, MA, LPC, AADC, Regulatory Compliance Manager, Ascension Recovery Services

As the United States is faced with one of its most formidable modern challenges, the widespread infectious disease known as COVID-19, behavioral health executives and investors are faced with the question of how best to respond. There are concerns about the future of the economy and even a possible recession. These concerns are valid. In addition, people are being asked, and in some cases required, to practice social distancing to reduce the spread of COVID-19. There are various reasons, however, that now is the time to invest in behavioral health startup and program expansions.

One reason is that people are in desperate need, now more than ever, for evidence-based and accessible behavioral health care. Social distancing is a crucial public health intervention to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, social distancing can very quickly result in social isolation, which is a contributing factor to various behavioral health disorders. 

We are facing an infectious disease crisis in the country, but we are also facing an overall behavioral health crisis.

  • Ten percent of adults in the United States have a substance use disorder[1].
  • One in five adults have a mental illness[2]

These staggering numbers show the desperate need for increased access to treatment, and also that new businesses can thrive financially and clinically. Not only can effective assistance be offered to people in need of treatment in a way that both allows for social distancing and decreases social isolation, but there is also a financial return on investment through such strategies. 

All of these goals can be achieved through the increased use of tele-behavioral health or virtual behavioral health care. Most commercial insurance companies allow for reimbursement for telehealth. In addition, some states have passed telehealth parity laws that require healthcare payors to reimburse telehealth services in the same way they would reimburse in-person services. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently expanded its telehealth service availability due to the COVID-19 outbreak[3]

Research has consistently shown that telehealth is effective[4]. Not only is telehealth as effective as in-person care, but it is much more accessible. Many modern telehealth laws allow for care to be received by patients in their homes through an electronic device such as a computer or smartphone. This convenient access to care eliminates barriers for clients, such as transportation or the stigma associated with attending treatment. It also eliminates barriers for behavioral health businesses and can drastically reduce start-up and facility costs.

Telehealth has even been used to expand medication-assisted treatment programs to combat the opioid epidemic. Several companies nationwide are expanding their organizational reach in multiple states by providing tele-medication-assisted treatment. Not only is medication-assisted treatment considered by many to be the gold-standard treatment for opioid use disorder, but patients also favor it because of its ability to reduce withdraw and craving. By offering medication-assisted treatment through virtual behavioral health platforms, treatment providers can save lives throughout the country, while operating a fulfilling business.

There are research examples of patients preferring telehealth over in-person visits[5].  Convenience is often a factor for why a patient might prefer to receive services via distance technology. Convenience is an important aspect of providing good customer service.  Convenience, however, is not the only reason telehealth is viewed favorably by patients.  Sometimes behavioral health services are not offered at all in more rural areas of the country.  There are simply no behavioral health providers in some parts of the United States.  Rural health care providers should consider how telehealth can help their organizations reach more patients with medically necessary healthcare services, as well as ways that telehealth might actually increase an organization’s billable services.  Ascension Recovery Services’ team of clinical, business, and financial experts can guide organizations through business plan development, clinical treatment schedules, licensing and accreditation, and other essential components of successful program development.

Telehealth is the future of healthcare. Now is the time to invest in this clinically effective and financially rewarding opportunity. Ascension Recovery Services specializes in regulatory compliance and clinical quality issues related to telehealth services.  Ascension Recovery Services has the experience to help behavioral health executives and investors to navigate the various state and federal laws around telehealth and its application in behavioral healthcare.  In addition, Ascension Recovery Services has experience in helping agencies obtain state and federal grants to start or expand services.  While it is true that there are unanswered questions in terms of what will happen economically due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the need to practice social distancing, it is also true that there is a thriving tele-behavioral health market that needs more providers. Now is the time to expand these services. If you are a healthcare organization, behavioral health leader, or investor that wants to learn more about this clinically effective and financially rewarding opportunity, contact Ascension Recovery Services for additional information.


[1] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/10-percent-us-adults-have-drug-use-disorder-some-point-their-lives

[2] https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

[3] https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/president-trump-expands-telehealth-benefits-medicare-beneficiaries-during-covid-19-outbreak

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5723163/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5422083/

Jason Batten, MA, LPC, AADC, Regulatory Compliance Manager, Ascension Recovery Services

Written by Jason Batten, MA, LPC, AADC, Regulatory Compliance Manager, Ascension Recovery Services

Jason is a licensed professional counselor in West Virginia, advanced alcohol and drug counselor and certified trauma therapist. In his clinical work, he has specialized in treating people diagnosed with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Jason began developing programs in 2012 and has since developed several successful recovery programs. Most recently, Jason was the program director of one of the fastest growing recovery centers in the state of West Virginia. During his tenure as program director, the center nearly tripled its average daily census. At Ascension, Jason utilizes his clinical and program development experience to assist companies in creating model programs that exceed recognized state and national standards of care. Exceeding these standards cause programs to become premier referral sources, thereby increasing both company revenue and the number of guests helped.

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