A look at telepsychiatry and face-to-face psychiatry services
Do psychiatrists need to be in the same room with a patient in order to correctly diagnose and counsel the patient? According to a study involving 495 subjects — about half had face-to-face sessions with a psychiatrist, while the other half were treated via telepsychiatry — both delivery systems exhibited equivalent outcomes. In other words, telepsychiatry and face-to-face psychiatry showed equal clinical improvements, hospitalization rates and patient satisfaction with inpatient psychiatric treatment and telepsychiatry services. However, the cost of providing telepsychiatry was much lower than the cost of face-to-face sessions.
Telemedicine originally developed as a tool primarily used in the field of psychiatry. With the rise of high-speed Internet, telepsychiatry has emerged as an effective and promising method of providing psychiatric services to patients with little or no access to mental health services.
One reason behind the rapid expansion of telepsychiatry services is the 21st century’s shortage of psychiatrists. A survey conducted six years ago found that nearly 80 percent of U.S. state counties did not have enough psychiatrists to adequately address the mental health needs of people suffering serious mental illnesses.
The far-reaching effects of telepsychiatry services have fortunately alleviated this supply and demand imbalance. They have also improved the efficacy of psychiatric care by making it much easier for one psychiatrist to treat people in multiple venues without being burdened with transportation difficulties.
Why Psychiatrists Do Not Need Face-to-Face Sessions with Patients
Research on the reliability of telepsychiatry has produced good results supporting positive interrater reliability for a wide variety of psychiatric disorders.
Since the majority of psychiatric patients have been referred by primary care physicians, telepsychiatrists are not “cold” meeting a patient. Through clinical notes provided by the patient’s medical doctor, telepsychiatrists are already equipped with information that facilitates their ability to competently evaluate a patient’s mental health.
Telepsychiatry providers have also found that patients tend to open up more freely to them when using videoconferencing technology. Iris Telehealth uses software similar to Skype or Facetime, that has additional security built in to ensure patient confidentiality is protected. This type of technology can lead to self-disclosure, social exchange and meaningful relationships — many theorists believe these components are just as important as physical contact. Telepsychiatry providers working for educational institutions have also reported that students more readily disclose clinical information via videoconferencing rather than face-to-face contact.
Patient Satisfaction Naturally Leads to Better Outcomes
With the majority of patients satisfied with their telepsychiatry services, the likelihood that patients using telepsychiatry services will adhere to treatment procedures and medication regimens is significantly increased.
Better yet, telepsychiatry is now reaching disadvantaged populations — rural residents, the elderly and the disabled — who would otherwise be hard-pressed to access face-to-face sessions with a psychiatrist.
In fact, telepsychiatry in rural areas is one of the fastest-growing areas of mental health care today. One doctor in Greenville, NC, even closed his traditional practice to conduct evaluations and sessions via videoconferencing when he discovered patients wholeheartedly preferred telepsychiatric services over face-to-face meetings.
With research revealing a high percentage of satisfied patients and effectiveness rates supporting telepsychiatry services, the time has come for telepsychiatry providers to begin embracing the advantages of telehealth technology.