Tele-Mental Health for Reaching Out to Patients in a Time of Pandemic: Provider Survey and Meta-analysis of Patient Satisfaction

JMIR Ment Health. 2021 Jul 29;8(7):e26187. doi: 10.2196/26187.


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to impact mental health by disrupting access to care due to physical distance measures and the unexpected pressure on public health services. Tele-mental health was rapidly implemented to deliver health care services.

Objective: The aims of this study were (1) to present state-of-the-art tele-mental health research, (2) to survey mental health providers about care delivery during the pandemic, and (3) to assess patient satisfaction with tele-mental health.

Methods: Document clustering was applied to map research topics within tele-mental health research. A survey was circulated among mental health providers. Patient satisfaction was investigated through a meta-analysis of studies that compared satisfaction scores between tele-mental health and face-to-face interventions for mental health disorders, retrieved from Web of Knowledge and Scopus. Hedges g was used as the effect size measure, and effect sizes were pooled using a random-effect model. Sources of heterogeneity and bias were examined.

Results: Evidence on tele-mental health has been accumulating since 2000, especially regarding service implementation, depressive or anxiety disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, and special populations. Research was concentrated in a few countries. The survey (n=174 respondents from Italy, n=120 international) confirmed that, after the onset of COVID-19 outbreak, there was a massive shift from face-to-face to tele-mental health delivery of care. However, respondents held skeptical views about tele-mental health and did not feel sufficiently trained and satisfied. Meta-analysis of 29 studies (n=2143) showed that patients would be equally satisfied with tele-mental health as they are with face-to-face interventions (Hedges g=-0.001, 95% CI -0.116 to 0.114, P=.98, Q=43.83, I2=36%, P=.03) if technology-related issues were minimized.

Conclusions: Mental health services equipped with tele-mental health will be better able to cope with public health crises. Both providers and patients need to be actively engaged in digitization, to reshape their reciprocal trust around technological innovations.

Keywords: COVID-19; access; access to care; document clustering; e-mental health; mental health; patient satisfaction; review; satisfaction; survey; telemedicine; telepsychiatry; telepsychology; tele–mental health.