Telepsychiatry visits are just like any other medical appointments- the only difference is they are conducted from the comfort of your own home or office using live video-conferencing. There are different names used for the same thing: virtual doctor visit, telehealth, telemedicine, telepsychiatry. They all mean the same thing: delivering health care services at a distance.
Telepsychiatry visits are carried out using a HIPAA-compliant connection to keep your protected health information safe. The technology is similar to using Skype or Facetime, however, the telepsychiatry technology is encrypted. The technology has to meet certain medical standards to use.
What is HIPAA? Read here for a summary of the privacy laws. This link can also be used if you are having trouble falling asleep....
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1. Telepsychiatry Eliminates Geographic Barriers
Many communities are underserved by psychiatrists and wait times can be prohibitive. Previously unavailable services can now be accessible throughout the country. Telepsychiatry allows us to easily connect with one another irrespective of location.
There is an important caveat though!
Even though we have the capabilities to see anyone in the world using this technology, doctors can only treat people in the states they are licensed.
For example, I am licensed only in Connecticut. If you are in any other state I cannot treat you. There are provisions allowed for short-term treatments (ie if you are my patient and leave for vacation out-of-state I am able to continue my treatment of you during your vacation.)
The psychiatrist doesn't have to reside in the state where they are licensed. A psychiatrist can be licensed in multiple states and treat people all over the country. It is a time consuming and expensive process to get and maintain different licenses hence why many doctors just stick to one.
2. A virtual Visit Saves Time!
Telepsychiatry visits can be a welcome solution for challenges that make it hard to come to appointments. This includes time pressures at work, transportation issues, or childcare difficulties.
Reduce the need take time off work to travel to appointments by scheduling a virtual appointment. No more sitting in traffic or wasting time in a waiting room. Reduce the stress that surrounds the logistics of scheduling and getting to an appointment.
3. Virtual Doctor Visits Improve Access to Specialists
There are not enough psychiatrists and certain areas have severe shortages. This especially rings true for subspecialists such as Geriatric, Child and Adolescent, and Addiction Psychiatrists.
There is a national opiate crisis yet there are many areas of the country where there are no licensed psychiatrists to treat patients needing help with opiate dependence. In order to prescribe buprenorphine (Suboxone), psychiatrists need extra training in order to get the special DEA license. Without that license, a doctor is unable to prescribe "medication-assisted treatment". Telepsychiatry can expand access to licensed psychiatrists in areas of shortages.
Not all doctors see patients via telemedicine but many are starting to. I use telepsychiatry in my practice and I love it. Sometimes my patients come to see me in the office and sometimes we schedule a follow-up virtual visit. If a patient is running late (or missing the appointment) we can quickly change to telepsychiatry. Snow storms? No problem! Care can continue without the need for rescheduling.
Telepsychiatry has the ability to improve access to mental health care. It is now feasible for the working professional, stay at home parent, anyone living a distance from their specialist, or people seeking convenient care to get treatment.
Dr. Melissa Welby is a psychiatrist practicing in CT. She is one of LinkedIn Top Voices and a healthcare blogger.
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A version of this article first appeared here.
Dr. Melissa Welby is a psychiatrist that participates in people’s process of discovery, empowerment, and search for satisfaction and happiness. She treats a variety of illnesses including depression, anxiety & panic attacks, adult ADHD (Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorders), bipolar disorder, OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) and borderline personality disorder. She is also the current president of the Connecticut Psychiatric Association.She completed her Internship & Residency at Cambridge Hospital, affiliate of Harvard Medical School, 2000 to 2004. Dr. Melissa Welby is Board Certified in General Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, 2005 to present.