I have my share of friends who want to improve their mental well-being but for one reason or another never get around to it. A lot of the excuses are valid ones. Long hours at a job, too busy with family, lack of funds; a lot of these things are nonnegotiable.
Making it to the psychiatrist’s office can be harder than it seems. Work and traffic are time consuming staples of modern life, especially in a town like Miami. Driving to regular appointments can seem impossible even with transportation. This is problematic for those in need of weekly or monthly consultations and prescription refills.
Then there are patients in rural parts of the country, those with debilitating injuries and diseases, those living in under-served populations, and the elderly. In some of these cases patients are literally confined to the home. In all of them, traveling to their doctor’s office is impractical.
Lack of access to psychiatric care affects a wide array of people in a society where the stigma surrounding mental illness is not yet overcome. It is therefore important to maximize availability.
Luckily modern life brings modern technology and with it a vital solution to this problem: telepsychiatry. Using videoconferencing programs, patients can have one-on-one contact with their doctor and get all the benefits of an in-person visit. Affordability increases while travel burdens decrease, and personnel costs are reduced for the provider.
Advancement and proliferation of telemedicine could not have come at a better time. The World Health Organization claims that by 2020, 15% of people will be diagnosed with mental and neurological disorders.
Consistently, the efficacy of telepsychiatric practice has been demonstrated in regards to both psychiatric assessments and treatments. Studies show results for patient satisfaction are comparable to in-person care, and in some cases may be preferable. Children responded favorably to the technology, and those with autism-spectrum disorders may benefit from a familiar setting during consultations.
Emergency use is another benefit of telepsychiatry. It could lead to faster consultations in urgent situations, and help keep emergency rooms from overcrowding.
Then there is the issue of interrupted care. Halting medications and treatment plans before speaking to a doctor is dangerous and unfortunately common in the field of mental health. This problem is largely addressed by telepsychiatry. Videoconferencing with the right doctor could prevent discontinuation: maintaining a good relationship to one’s healthcare provider is crucial for treatment adherence.
Telepsychiatry can be traced back to the late ‘50s but in those days it would occur at a hospital or clinic. Now, with a personal computer in every home, patients need not leave their bedroom – but healthcare via home computers requires strict technological measures for patient safety. Information must be kept secure in a digital age when encroachment of privacy is on many people’s minds. This is why Skype and similar public videoconferencing software are unsuited for professional medical use, however approved HIPAA programs are available. HIPAA, or The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, was signed into law in 1996. It was enacted to regulate, among other things, electronic health care – meaning software used in telepsychiatry must meet HIPAA standards.
The school year is approaching which tightens schedules for both parents and children. Telepsychiatry may be a safe, effective, and convenient mental health solution for busy families struggling to meet work obligations while driving the kids to and from school and activities. Even for younger working individuals time gets scarce, especially as summer ends and the holiday months approach. Telemedicine could keep those patients healthy who feel like they barely have the time.
Note: Telepsychiatry is a service available for clients of BregmanMD after an initial face-to-face evaluation. Schedule an appointment with BregmanMD.
Callahan, Ferrer, Hilty, Johnston, Parish, Yellowlees (2013) The Effectiveness of Telemental Health: A 2013 Review. Telemedicine and E-Health, 19(6), 444-454. doi: 10.1089/tmj.2013.0075
Conn, Gajaria, Madan (2015) Telepsychiatry: effectiveness and feasibility. Smart Homecare Technology and Telehealth. 2015 (3), 59-67. https://doi.org/10.2147/SHTT.S45702
Garcia-Liana, Francisca, M.D., Ph.D & Muñoz-Mayorga, Ingrid, MS (2010) What About Telepsychiatry? A Systematic Review. Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 12(2). doi: 10.4088/PCC.09m00831whi