Iris clinicians are at the heart of what makes our organization such a special place to work. That’s why we’re turning the spotlight on the amazing work they’re doing every day. This month, we’re sitting down to talk with Dr. Mariela Fuenmayor.
Q. How did you find Iris and decide you wanted to be an Iris provider?
A. I found Iris online. I worked for the VA, and the stress level was too high. I started looking for another job that would give me more balance in my life. Then, I found Iris.
Q. How does Telehealth compare to in-person care?
A: There’s no doubt in psychiatry and therapy being able to see someone in person has an impact on people. But the whole world has changed. The amount of reach telehealth can have is amazing.
My school did not approve of telehealth. Now, I see its power, and then the pandemic showed us what we couldn’t see before.
I had been working in telehealth for five years because the VA hired me for telehealth. I was working with high-intensity patients. I already knew how it was, but many people didn’t know.
However, when the pandemic hit, it was a very easy transition to do it. Telehealth has a lot to offer nowadays, especially with the difficulties people have trying to be seen by a psychiatrist. So right now, I see the power, and I don’t think I would go back to the other way.
Q. How do you foster connections with your patients in a virtual environment?
A. My background has an art piece that I’m very connected to. Another thing I use is when talking to the patient, and then I say, “I want to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Fuenmayor. I’m a psychiatrist working for this place. I’m in my office, and it’s my home office, but this is a floor where no one is around. I have four screens in front of me. Sometimes, my dogs are here, and if they are, I will ask you if you want to see them. And sometimes they’re not. So, this is totally private, and the conversation is HIPAA compliant.”
I frame it like that and make sure I move my hands a lot. I’ve read a lot about nonverbal communication, so I practice that, make sure I’m keeping eye contact, and try not to talk when I’m talking to patients, so they feel that they are my priority.
Right now, there is an on-site team member with the patient – often either a nurse, case manager or therapist. So, I explain this to the patient on the call and say, “so-and-so is here.” Before I meet the patient, the on-site team presents everything to me and explains to the patient what will happen. That process has worked out well for me.
Very few patients say, “I want an in-person psychiatrist.” I would say 95% of the patients are okay with telehealth. Some of the patients told me they wanted to see a face-to-face psychiatrist, and they did. Then, they come back to virtual.
Q. How do you manage work-life balance?
A: I live in Arkansas in Central Time and work for California in Pacific Time. I start working at 10:00 a.m. my time and 8:00 a.m. their time. I work an eight-hour shift, and I make sure that my life before my job is the time when I walk and where I do my exercise. I’m a yoga practitioner, and I have time to do it every morning.
I don’t have to drive anywhere. So, I’m just home. I make sure that my office is on the second floor, and I’m never here. This room is just for the office.
It has worked out well for me. I don’t think about work after that. I think about my connection with my family and doing what I want. I do feel like I have achieved that work-life balance. It’s priceless.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A. When I can witness, with the team’s help, that I can change a person’s life for good, I’ve gone full circle since I graduated 30-something years ago. Many times, I felt like it was just running and running and not seeing the effect. When I was in private practice, the effect took years to happen.
Today, I work for Community Solutions, a non-profit organization in San Jose and Morgan Hill, California. There is a large transient population – we deal with the social problems they’re going through.
In two or three months they go one month in crisis, residential, then a three-month residential treatment program. In that time, I can see the change, and it is so fulfilling. I am super excited about this. Sometimes, you lose someone, but most of the time, I can see the effect of the team and the work we do in the patient’s life. That is the reason I went to psychiatry. I feel like I completed the whole circle and am back to where I wanted to be.
Q. What do you love about working with Iris?
A. I love it because, technology-wise, whenever I’m having hiccups, someone jumps in, and I feel respected. I have all the support I need. Iris Telehealth and the IT team are amazing. I don’t know them in person, but I’m super grateful. When I cannot connect, someone will jump on in minutes. Technical issues cause the biggest level of stress for a telehealth provider.
Of course, you have that responsibility of the patient. But the big stress is what happens if I cannot connect? What happens if something doesn’t work, and I cannot provide a service? Iris has been amazing at helping me with that.
Melissa Kennedy has also been amazing – she’s an amazing human being. When I have any problems in my personal life that I need to take, she’s very helpful in facilitating that. I feel super supported by Iris, and when I come to work, I want to come to work.
I’m not stressed. I am happy with what I’m going to do. And I know that if something goes wrong, I can text someone, call them, and they can jump on in minutes. That’s what I love about working with Iris.
Q. Why do you think telepsychiatry is the future of mental health care?
A. There are not enough psychiatrists for the number of patients we have. I remember when I used to work in person, no matter what you do or if you try to buy a house close to your office, you still have the commute time. There is a lot of stress about commuting and parking.
Now, we can reach more people and we’re developing more effective ways to communicate. The world is used to video conferences, and there is no question that I can see more people through video than I could see in person. For example, if I have ten patients scheduled today and someone cancels, my team can add someone else to my schedule because I work in telehealth.
When I was working in the office, a no-show was a no-show – and the rate at that time was 30%. From and efficacy standpoint, there’s no question that we can see more patients. I think telemedicine offered a huge step forward in healthcare and telepsychiatry. It’s been a step forward.
New generations are going to ask you for that. I can also see people in person in my private practice when I used to have it, and your people feel comfortable doing video, and they’ll say, “No, let’s do video. I can do it. I can attend your appointment because I just finished working and can do it now. I don’t have to commute.” So, that’s why it’s the future — it makes the service more available to everyone.
Q. What advice would you give to someone who’s new to telehealth?
A. The taxing thing about telehealth is sitting at the desk and in an office. I have overcome that by ensuring I do my outdoor things before I go to work and doing physical exercise.
My advice is to separate your work from your life somehow. I put my office on the floor of my house where no one goes. That way, you have that break. Then, also make sure that you do physical exercise or whatever you do to keep your mind balanced.
Some people do meditation, and I do yoga, but make sure that you do something like that because now, when you walk, you cannot walk in an office. I do have a standing desk, but sitting here is taxing on the body. However, if you make sure that you do that, everything will be okay.
Q. Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience in telehealth?
A. I’m super grateful and happy. I’m proud to work for Iris. Telepsychiatry is a very effective tool. And from the provider’s standpoint, it can allow you to have a work-life balance, which can be very fulfilling. If you had asked me 30 years ago, I would never have told you I would still be so happy doing this. I am so glad and I’m helping people. If someone is going to try telehealth, give yourself a year of this experience, and if you’re like me, you will have a great opportunity to help people. And that’s the reason you went to medical school in the first place.
At Iris, we believe our providers should be respected, valued, and applauded for the work they do, and we couldn’t be more proud to say, “thank you” to our very own Dr. Mariela Fuenmayor. If you’d like to learn more about working for Iris Telehealth, contact us today.