Telepsychiatry – Delivering Mental Health Care to All!
February 02, 2013
In this day and age getting in to see a specialist in a timely fashion is becoming increasingly difficult. Simply finding an appointment available can take months, not to mention the ridiculously long waiting room stay your appointment ultimately guarantees, only to be followed by the lengthy periods of waiting in between all future appointments necessary. Honestly it’s all just become exhausting! These are just a few of the most common problems currently plaguing mental health patients, making it nearly impossible to obtain treatment for their mental health illness. Additional problems mental health patients face include but are not limited to a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists, the stigma associated with seeing a psychiatrist or “shrink”, as well as a host of other obstacles preventing mental health care in the US.
With recent developments in technology and telecommunications over the past decade, telepsychiatry is becoming a popular solution. Telepsychiatry, also known as e-psychiatry, is the application of telemedicine in the field of psychiatry. Many health care programs are being offered online through telemedicine. Telemedicine is growing rapidly with sites like ConsultaDr.com, AmeriDoc.com, Teladoc.com and others similar telehealth providers which give you access to a doctor at the click of a button - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
There are a growing number of specialty services in the field of telemedicine including telepsychiatry which provides patients’ access to a psychiatrist online through phone and video teleconferencing. Telepsychiatry is the next logical step in the field of telemedicine given the lack of a physical exam being required by most psychiatrists, as opposed to other specialty services.
Stephen Maddaloni, Co-Founder of e-Psychiatry.com, stated “I’ve been in the telemedicine industry for many years now and I’ve been a part of numerous projects. I believe telepsychiatry will prove to be the most beneficial to patients out of all of the telemedical applications.”
A Few Reasons Why Telepsychiatry’s Popularity is Rising
“The telemedicine industry is expected to reach $27.3 billion by 2016. Telepsychiatry’s role will play a big part in reaching those projections.” - informationweek.com
National Shortage of Psychiatrists
The national shortage of psychiatrists has been the driving force behind telepsychiatry’s success. Fewer than 5% of med students are choosing psychiatry as a specialty at medical schools across the country according to the NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) and 55% of practicing psychiatrists are 55 years of age or older, which will worsen the already dire condition the field of psychiatry is presently undergoing.
Many patients are turning to Emergency Rooms and Urgent Care Clinics for their mental health care. Often times these places too are affected, not able to have a psychiatrist on staff, causing the patient to be evaluated by ER/general practice doctors who are not trained to treat mental health patients. Telepsychiatry provides patients with a licensed psychiatrist online through video conferencing in areas where mental health patients would normally have to do without, as well as providing hospitals/mental health clinics an alternative to staffing a full time psychiatrist.
Growing Appointment and Wait Room Times
In certain areas of the country, especially in areas hardest hit by the lack of mental health providers, waiting room times have become almost unbearable and available appointment times are hard to find. Some patients have to wait months after their last appointment before being able to see their psychiatrist again. Long waits for appointments can be especially difficult for those whose condition requires monthly or even weekly sessions with their psychiatrist.
“Tina Pine, executive director of Century Health, stated mental health patients in northwestern Ohio at their Findlay treatment center wait an estimated 2 to 3 months between appointments.”
Many psychiatrists have to overbook appointments just so patients can be seen. This can result in excessive waiting room times which in some cases can be as much as 3 or 4 hours and, as a result, causes unnecessary time off work for nearly the entire day - affecting both patients and employers. Additionally, overbooking patients can cause quality of care to decrease due to psychiatrists rushing to see the next patient.
Telepsychiatry delivers solutions for patients as well as employers and cuts out those wait times for both appointments and in the waiting room. Most telepsychiatry services partner with psychiatrists around the country whose availability and schedule allows for additional patients. This gives patients the ability to eliminate the waiting room and can schedule appointments around the clock or even weekends in some cases. Telepsychiatry gives patients the ability to diminish missed time from work and access to consistent, quality mental health treatment.
Stigma of Seeing a “Shrink”
There is nothing to be ashamed of when seeking mental health treatment but even in today’s world seeing a psychiatrist can be looked down upon. Business executives, business owners, CEO’s, people in the public eye and other VIP’s are sometimes prevented from seeking mental health care due to the stigma attached with seeing a psychiatrist. These individuals have roles and responsibilities that hold them accountable for employees working under them as well as high pressure situations that can affect their mental health. This is often times ignored because of the stigma attached to seeing a psychiatrist given that most business professionals and other important individuals don’t want to be labeled as “crazy” or “not mentally capable”.
This is not only specific to the professional domain but also includes most of the populations’ perceptions towards seeking mental health care. A survey taken from 660 people states 26% said they had too much pride or were too afraid to seek mental health treatment. Our society and culture contributes to this reluctance with movies like One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Shutter Island.
Mental health treatment is just as important as treatment for heart related problems provided by a cardiologist. It’s imperative that all people seek mental health treatment when necessary but it is especially significant for people who hold influential positions. Telepsychiatryprovides these individuals a way to be seen privately and discreetly, without being seen in an office, who otherwise would not seek treatment.
The Different Types of Telepsychiatry Services
There are several telepsychiatry companies all with their own custom treatment plans. e-Psychiatry.com, CalTelepsych.com and In-Sight.net, just to name a few, are the most popular services currently on the market. e-Psychiatry.com is a new service that provides patients with online psychiatric appointments nationwide. They are one of the first companies to offer their services to individuals at home rather than requiring them to visit a contracted facility. e-Psychiatry actively seeks psychiatrists to contract with who are in an area unaffected by the issues related to lack of mental health care. They give them access to their EMR (Electronic Medical Records) and sign up patients, employers, hospitals, clinics, insurance providers and others who have been affected or are in need of a psychiatrist. There are also some psychiatrists with small private practices around the US that provide telesychiatry services to patients located within their state.
Telepsychiatry for Individuals/Families
Some telepsychiatry services offer individuals and families access to a psychiatrist online. Patients receive easy, private and discreet access to a psychiatrist through video or phone, obtaining the same level of care as a traditional office visit. Rates vary from service to service but generally charge a monthly fee or per consultation. Treatment can be provided directly from their personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Most services provide patients access to an online EHR (Electronic Health Record) giving them access to their mental health care online.
e-Psychiatry.com, a national based telepsychiatry service, and CalTelepsych.com, which is based in California and a few other states, are some of the only services that give patients this online treatment option. There are a few private practices around the country that provide telepsychiatry to their patients locally. e-Psychiatry.com works with some of these practices extending their reach outside their local area to provide services statewide.
Telepsychiatry for Employers, Insurance Providers and other Organizations
Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employees, following only family crisis, stress and anxiety. Furthermore, 3% of total short term disability days are credited to depressive disorders. Depression is just as costly to the US economy as heart disease or AIDS, at an estimated cost of around $51 billion in lost productivity and absenteeism.
e-Psychiatry.com has programs in place that offer employers and other organizations a telepsychiatry supplemental benefit to complement their current insurance plans. It gives them a cost effective way of giving their employees and members a quick and easy solution to getting treatment for their mental health related illness who might not seek treatment due to work or other obligations. Having quick access to an online psychiatrist provides employee’s a way to deal with mental health issues without having to miss any work.
Telepsychiatry for Hospitals, Mental Health Clinics, Jails and Institutions
This is the most popular service option for telepsychiatry programs. Telepsychiatry services contract with hospitals, jails, mental health clinics and other institutions and provide a way to fill the gaps in their mental health programs by utilizing telepsychiatry. These contracts are usually developed in underserved areas that have been affected by the psychiatrist shortage, providing them with their own virtual psychiatrists without the associated costs of staffing and recruitment. e-Psychiatry.com, In-Sight.net, CalTelepsych.com and most other telepsychiatry services provide this program.
The Future of Telemedicine and Telepsychiatry
Telemedicine and telepsychiatry will be the norm in the very near future. There are programs in place where you can go to the pharmacy, talk to a nurse practitioner/doctor on the phone and get your prescription right there all in one place. Convenience is also a big factor in why telemedicine and telepsychiatry will thrive. There is only a hand full of programs in place but that will change very soon. Telepsychiatry is an essential building block for telemedicine and the best platform to measure its success. There is an obvious need for nationwide telepsychiatry programs like e-Psychiatry.com. It gives patients control over their mental health while helping deal with the current issues crippling mental health care in the US. Telepsychiatry services help provide relief for many individuals that suffer from inadequate mental health treatment, giving patients hope that otherwise would not have access to or would not seek mental health treatment simply by giving them an online alternative.