Is Telepsychiatry Equivalent to Traditional Face-to-Face Psychiatry?

by Aurora H., e-Psychiatry Contributing Reporter, e-Psychiatry, Monday, December 7, 2015
Telepsychiatry Equivalent to Traditional Face-to-Face

The use of telemedicine services is booming in the United States, with BCC Research reporting that it will become a $27.3 billion industry by 2016. Telepsychiatry is a specialized branch of telemedicine, allowing psychiatrists to offer mental health services remotely. Despite the growing demand for telepsychiatry, some potential users remain concerned about its implementation. In particular, they worry that telepsychiatry may not be equivalent to traditional, face-to-face psychiatry. Recent research speaking to this issue can clarify the role of telepsychiatry in the future of medicine.

Evidence Supporting the Use of Telepsychiatry Services

In 2007, researchers at the University of Western Ontario completed a scientific study comparing traditional, face-to-face psychiatry to telepsychiatry. The study involved 495 patients who were referred by a family doctor for psychiatric services. Half of the patients were assigned to a face-to-face condition, while the other half received telepsychiatry via videoconferencing.

In both groups, patients reported improved mental health and decreased distress from their mental health symptoms. Expert doctors rated these self-reported improvements as clinically significant. This indicates that both traditional psychiatry and telepsychiatry are effective at treating mental health problems. Critically, there was no significant difference between the amount of improvement for patients who received telepsychiatry and those who received face-to-face care.

An additional concern is that telepsychiatry may be perceived as less effective or more inconvenient by patients. However, patients in the study reported that they were satisfied by their telepsychiatry care.

Finally, providing telepsychiatry services cost 16% less per visit (and 10% less per patient) than traditional, face-to-face psychiatry. A recently released annual report on health care costs in the United States found that health care expenses now account for 17% of the gross domestic product. With the exploding cost of care, a cost savings of 10% per patient is of great significance. Thus, telepsychiatry is not only effective in treating patients, but it is a cost-effective alternative to traditional psychiatric care.

Recommendations for Telepsychiatry Providers

One of the biggest hurdles remaining for telepsychiatry is increasing the number of providers who offer these services. Notably, the study found that psychiatrists providing face-to-face care often had to travel to their patients, resulting in hefty charges that are passed on to patients and insurance providers. Particularly for patients in underserved areas, having the ability to see a provider from the comfort of their own home or local clinic is revolutionary.

It is natural for patients to express some reluctance about the changing face of medicine. This is why it is so important for psychiatrists to educate patients about unchanged quality of care between traditional and telepsychiatry. Pointing to studies such as the one conducted by the Western Ontario University researchers can ease patients´┐Ż fears about using telepsychiatry services.

To learn more about how telepsychiatry is changing the way we view health care, visit e-Psychiatry today. We believe in scientifically informed medicine, and psychiatry providers have proven their ability to connect to patients in an authentic, effective way through telepsychiatry.


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