Telepsychiatry is the application of telemedicine to the specialty field of psychiatry. Greater bandwidth, better security and emerging video technologies are making this medical practice more acceptable to doctors and patients. The term typically describes the delivery of psychiatric assessment and care delivered through telecommunications technology, usually videoconferencing.
One of the drivers behind telepsychiatry’s growth in the United States has been a national shortage of psychiatrists, particularly in specialty areas such as child and adolescent psychiatry. Telepsychiatry can allow fewer doctors to serve more patients by improving utilization of the psychiatrist’s time.
Telepsychiatry can also make it easier for psychiatrists to treat patients in rural or under-served areas by eliminating the need for either party to travel. The most common means of insurance coverage for telehealth services in the United States is to incorporate coverage into the Medicare program. Reimbursement for Medicare-covered services must satisfy federal requirements of efficiency, economy and quality of care. Since 2014, CMS has covered telemedicine services, including telepsychiatry in most areas of the county.
Benefits of telepsychiatry:
- Convenience: Telepsychiatry allows patients to receive specialized behavioral health treatment from the comforts of their homes/communities.
- Quality of care: Telepsychiatry offers greater continuity of care and an increased range of mental health services for patients.
- Increased access: Telepsychiatry overcomes barriers to psychiatric care such as distance, cost, and availability.
- Privacy: telepsychiatry platforms must be HIPAA-compliant, and use encryption.
- Transparency: Telepsychiatry patients have access to annotations and personal electronic health records.
- Simplicity of use: All patients need is a computer or tablet with a browser and webcam.
Telepsychiatry allows patients to get the specialty care they need in the comfort of their homes or primary care provider’s office. This not only reduces the travel burden, but also reduces the stigma of receiving treatment from a psychiatrist or psychologist. It also has the potential to improve the communication and coordination between primary care providers and mental health specialists in order to provide a more holistic treatment experience for the patient.
How does telepsychiatry compare to face-to-face psychiatric visits? Several studies have found no significant differences in the quality, outcomes or satisfaction of care delivered via interactive video compared to face-to-face visits.
Even though telepsychiatry has demonstrated many benefits for patients, barriers still exists today, mostly administrative obstacles. Doctors providing telepsychiatry treatment must be licensed in the state where their patient is located, and that can be expensive and inconvenient.
Nevertheless, telepsychiatry is rapidly growing, and it will be key in dealing with the combination of population growth and a shortage of psychiatrists. With telepsychiatry doctors can work more efficiently to see more patients in less time.