Telepsychiatry on the Rise in Rural Clinics and Hospitals

by Aurora H., e-Psychiatry Contributing Reporter, e-Psychiatry, Friday, November 13, 2015
telepsychiatry on rise

There is growing concern about health care disparities between urban and rural areas. In a 2004 study, Dr. David Hartley, a researcher at the University of Southern Maine, noted that rural areas ranked poorly on 21 out of 23 indicators of population health. Mental health was one of these areas. Now, technological advances have brought telepsychiatry into the reach of rural patients. This rise in rural telepsychiatry use will increase access to mental health care and improve health outcomes.

The Scope of the Rural Mental Health Disparities

The health care gap between urban and rural America has persisted for decades. Rural clinics are often staffed with nurses and general medicine practitioners; however, residents of rural areas typically lack access to medical specialists. While a trip to a larger urban area may be possible for some rural residents, many are left without options.

This problem is compounded by the demand for psychiatrists is at an all-time high across the country. With their lower population density, rural areas cannot compete with urban centers to attract the psychiatrists they need. Unfortunately, people in rural regions desperately need mental health services. With greater poverty, higher use of methamphetamine and other drugs, and higher suicide rates, rural residents can greatly benefit from psychiatry services.

The Role of Telepsychiatry in Rural Clinics and Hospitals

In response to these challenges, telepsychiatry is gaining momentum in rural areas. Telepsychiatry is just one facet of a rise in telemedicine, which aims to remotely provide medical services to those in need.

So how can telepsychiatry help residents in rural areas? A two-way video connection allows a psychiatrist to interact with patients almost as though the patient is in the same room. Psychiatrists can review a patient�s medical history, conduct an interview, manage medications, and provide psychotherapy services�all from a remote location. Meanwhile, the patient gets the face-to-face interaction needed to express concerns, receive answers about mental health problems, and learn new coping strategies.

Telepsychiatry has the potential to help patients with a range of issues, including mood disorders, addiction, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, or psychosis. The psychiatrist can finish seeing one patient and immediately begin the next visit with another patient from across the state! This dramatically improves access for rural individuals.

Some psychiatrists have expressed concern about whether these remote services meet the same standard of care as in-person sessions. Importantly, telepsychiatry platforms often pair psychiatrists with local clinics, hospitals, or health care facilities. This allows a remote psychiatrist to work collaboratively with local professionals to manage situations as they arise. For patients who cannot travel to a clinic, telepsychiatry can bring a psychiatrist�s services directly to their living room. This maximizes efficiency and access to care without compromising professional standards.

To learn more about implementing telepsychiatry for rural or other underserved populations, click the link provided. By tackling the logistics of telepsychiatry, e-Psychiatry has emerged as a leader in this rapidly expanding field.