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. Chris Heh.
Q. How did you find Iris and decide you wanted to be an Iris provider?
A: Six years ago, I was making a job transition and was looking for something that would provide me with flexibility. I saw Iris’s website, which was user-friendly, creative, and well designed. I called them up, and we met. They said I would be a good fit for the team. They were good people, and I decided to start working with them.
Q. What does a typical day as an Iris Telehealth provider look like for you?
A: It’s quite variable, and it all depends on what type of work you’re doing. I’ve been with Iris for about six years, and I’ve had the ability to work in various areas of psychiatry. For example, I worked for an inpatient eating disorder unit for children and adolescents, for a geriatric inpatient psychiatric service, and now I do consultation-liaison work. It’s hard to say what a typical day looks like because each setting looks different.
I’ve worked in community mental health on an outpatient basis, too. In general, in the inpatient or consultation-liaisons service, you move from one patient to another. With telepsychiatry, you don’t have to walk up and down the hallways, the patients usually just pop up on your screen, which makes it very convenient. We have lots of support. For example, our clinical managers make the appointments and make the phone calls so we can see the patients. There’s a great deal of ease in seeing patients. A typical day is what you’d expect if you are in person, in some sense, except that we do it via televideo visits.
Q. What do you love about being a telepsychiatry provider?
A: It’s not just what I love about being a provider, but what I love about working with Iris. One of the things I love is that I’m able to move through different facets of psychiatry, everything from the eating disorders unit for children and adolescents to inpatient psychiatry to community mental health. The breadth of psychiatry is just amazing. I can see an assortment of patients in very different settings. For someone who likes variety like me, that’s great.
In general psychiatry, they always say time is priceless. I don’t have to spend 15-minutes grooming, getting my lab coat on, taking 30-minutes to drive to the hospital, or maybe taking five minutes walking around the unit trying to locate each patient. You save a lot of time, and you don’t realize it. If you think about it, it’s maybe two hours a day. You multiply that two hours times five days a week, that’s 10 hours, and I can use those 10 hours to do something more fun.
Q. How do you foster connection with patients virtually?
A: It’s really important to make time and adjust your approach to effectively build that connection when you’re a telehealth provider. And that’s especially important with kids. If you talk to children in a monotone voice, if you’re expressionless, they’re going to turn you off just like a bad tv show. You have to put your game face on, you have to be animated, you have to change the pitch of your voice, and the cadence of your speech, so it’s a little different. Since you’re not in person you have to be more animated. That’s how I try to keep my patients engaged.
Q. As a healthcare professional, how do you manage work-life balance?
A: It’s actually easier in some sense doing telepsychiatry. I have more free time. I think work-life balance depends on the person. I tend to be a workaholic. So when Iris says they have extra consults available, I usually take a look. However, when other Iris clinicians are too busy or have to take time off, Iris respects that, too.
I think work-life balance comes down to the person and what they want. It’s always a struggle, and you never think you got it right. It’s an infinite balancing act.
I was doing doubles, and the people at Iris were compassionate and asked, “Is that what you really want to do?” They worry about you getting burned out, and sometimes you need to be reminded. And I appreciate that. They always say, “Hey, thanks for working so hard, but are you working too hard?” That tells you they care about you.
Q. What are your biggest learnings from your time at Iris?
A: One of the nice things is I’ve been able to see patients in California, Texas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and so on. You think psychiatry is the same wherever you go, but it’s not. You have regional differences, county differences, and neighborhood differences. Your standard in one neighborhood may be different in another city or state. It’s interesting just to see the commitment laws throughout the United States are different, too. That makes it interesting and challenging.
Seeing how other people in other parts of the country treat their patients versus in your hometown is fascinating. Some of that you can carry over to other settings and say, “Hey, look, we do it this way over here. Have you thought about that?” Some people sometimes stay in a position for 30 years in the same old palace. Well, telepsychiatry is different. I can practice in five different states, in five different ways, and I find that very enriching.
Q. What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: There are many aspects. One is the patients themselves. There are some areas where psychiatry is so desolate, and they just don’t have enough psychiatric care. And, when you meet some patients, and you get feedback from them, they say, “Hey, thanks for spending time.” I find it very satisfying because Iris reaches out to these communities where psychiatric care is minimal and unavailable.
Iris has done a very good job of picking the right people for the right positions. When you’re working with other people of the same caliber and excellence, that makes your job so enjoyable. When you’ve got colleagues you can depend on and colleagues who also have a high standard of care, they make you better. I think having good people to work with and people who are just as competent, if not more competent, sharpens you and allows you to grow.
Q. What do you love about working with Iris?
A: There are so many aspects. Number one, reimbursement is fair, and that’s important. There are always ways to increase your income. I think the flexibility in the scheduling is very good, and there are various shifts you can take. The other thing I like is that they have very responsive management. You have people who look at you as a person, and not someone who is just a simple cog in the wheel who can be replaced. They appreciate you, and you can sense and feel that. You’re not just treated like a number. I’ve had a nomadic life in psychiatry. I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve been with Iris for six years. For me, to stick with anybody for six years is unusual. So, they must be doing something right.
Q. Why do you think telepsychiatry is important to the future of mental healthcare?
A: First and foremost, telepsychiatry is important because there are just certain areas in the United States where psychiatric care is desolate. For remote areas, it is essential because patients aren’t going to drive 20 miles to see a psychiatry provider. I think it is really important in those areas where there’s a lack of care. They need psychiatric providers. The other thing is to get a psychiatrist at midnight to come into your emergency room – who will do that? There aren’t too many. If there are, they don’t last too long.
Telepsychiatry is here to say, and it’s simply because there aren’t enough physicians or psychiatrists. From a treatment standpoint, it provides care instantaneously, when you need it, like in the middle of the night when there’s no one around. I’m glad it’s there because you need professionals when no one else is around during those critical times. Telepsychiatry has been growing and growing, and I don’t see it going away.
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 Chris Heh. If you’d like to learn more about working for Iris Telehealth, contact us today.