A patient may wait months before seeing a psychiatrist, especially in rural or even highly populated areas. In the behavioral health community, there is no denying the serious shortage in psychiatric care across the United States. Telepsychiatry allows patients access to the psychiatric help they need, as soon as they need it.
From the patient’s perspective, telehealth may be a foreign concept; until you really need to see a doctor, you may not see the value of telemedicine. Often patients are told there is a wait of six months to a year before seeing a psychiatrist. With telepsychiatry, they are typically seen within days, if not hours, and more often the patient sees the same prescriber in follow up visits due to the flexibility of video conferencing. This allows the patient to build a relationship with their doctor. Even better, the patient can schedule a time that is convenient for them rather than what may be convenient for the healthcare facility.
There are some patients that may oppose the model, as they would prefer an in-person psychiatrist who is physically in front of them. If this is your perspective, I ask you to consider how often you have physical contact with your psychiatrist. Maybe a handshake at the beginning and end of your session, but does that really affect the quality of care you receive? In fact, with the high-quality streaming available, it is often easier for the patient to pay attention, and just as easy for the psychiatrist to properly diagnose and treat the patient.
Due to the high-definition technology available, it is proven that adolescents (ages 10-19) respond best to telepsychiatry. Seeing their psychiatrist over a video conference allows the child to be more engaged than in person. From the adolescent’s perspective, in a study by Grealish et al conducted in 2005:
“They found the process more structured and felt better informed, which resulted in enhanced understanding of their problems and increased participation in health-care decision-making.”
Countless education experts claim that structure is key in adolescence, and that rings true in medicine as well. For an adolescent to improve their behavioral health, they must understand it. The TV screen is a comfort zone for this generation, and acts as an integral part of education and awareness. There is also an element of ease for the adolescent, as they are more likely to open-up in front of a TV screen than to a physical doctor, who may likely be a stranger.
Adolescents are not the only population who hold a positive reception of telepsychiatry. In fact, in many rural areas patients of all ages firmly believe that there is no difference between telepsychiatry and in-person care. The patient receives the full attention of the psychiatrist, and there is a seamless transition for the clinician as they ask questions while typing notes.
The relationship between the patient and the doctor is inevitably the same via video conference as in-person. The patient’s view is determined by how quickly they need access to a doctor, the clarity of the video technology, and the quality of the psychiatrist.
Kiki Dreyfuss is an Account Executive for Iris Telehealth.
(Grealish A, Hunter A, Glaze R, Potter L. Telemedicine in a child and adolescent mental health service: Participants’ acceptance and utilization. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare. 2005;11:53–55. [PubMed])