Telehealth effective for treating anxiety, depression

Telehealth interventions were as effective as in-person treatment for reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms, according to data published in BMC Psychiatry.

“Randomized control trials and subsequent reviews demonstrate the efficacy of telebehavioral health and have failed to detect significant differences between in-person and telehealth interventions,” Carly McCord, PhD, of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Texas A&M University, wrote. “However, many previous studies have limited generalizability and frequently lack diversity in patient populations, with rural and minority patients often being underrepresented.”

To evaluate outcomes in symptoms of depression and anxiety in patients treated in person vs. via telehealth, McCord and colleagues assessed data from 17 grantees and 95 associated sites that were funded by the Evidence-Based Tele-Behavioral Health Network Program and the Substance Abuse Treatment Telehealth Network Grant Program. For the analysis, they used data provided by grantees on nonrandomized convenience samples of telehealth patients and in-person comparison groups from sites with similar rural characteristics who were seen during the same time period.

The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) was used to measure depression symptoms, and the Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7) scale was used to measure anxiety-related symptoms.

Among 1,514 patients included in the study, improvements in depression and anxiety symptoms from baseline to 1-month follow-up occurred at similar rates between treatment groups. Specifically, the average decrease in PHQ-9 scores was 2.8 in the telehealth group and 2.9 in the in-person treatment group, and the average decrease in GAD-7 score was 2 in the telehealth treatment group and 2.4 in the in-person treatment group. Notably, results revealed no statistically significant association between modality of care and 1-month change in depression or anxiety.

McCord and colleagues noted that decreases in both PHQ-9 and GAD-7 scores were most pronounced among patients with higher baseline scores, and patient demographics did not appear to be associated with 1-month change in anxiety or depression symptoms after adjustment for baseline scores and grantee program.

“This study suggests that telebehavioral health care delivered to rural areas is as effective as in-person care for anxiety and depression symptoms, an important reassurance with the continued expansion of telehealth beyond the pandemic surge in telehealth adoption,” they wrote.