If you associate psychiatry with lying on a couch, you might want to reconsider that assumption. Today’s technological advances enable people to meet with their care providers from across the country and even the globe.
However, is meeting by phone or internet as effective as in-person therapy? In actuality, it offers several advantages over the traditional model. Here are six benefits of telepsychiatry.
1. Expanded Access to a Professional Care Team
Wait times to see care providers can stretch on for months, particularly if you need to see a specialist. The median wait time for adolescents who need to see a psychiatrist is 50 days — nearly two months. That’s a considerable span for someone in a mental health crisis.
One advantage of telepsychiatry is expanded access to a professional care team, including specialists. Many programs allow patients 24/7 access to licensed counselors who can help them through times of crisis. Additionally, psychiatrists no longer have to travel to various facilities in a widespread region. They can meet patients electronically. Facilities can expand their hiring practices to recruit specialists who reside in another state.
Many such visits occur in a professional medical office, where a nurse takes vital signs. Doctors can then prescribe medications and recommend treatment protocols.
2. Customizable Programs for Each Patient
Telepsychiatry offers unparalleled flexibility as another perk. Each facility can utilize programs and apps that suit each individual’s unique needs.
For example, some patients might employ journaling as an intervention strategy or to work through various issues they face. Their mental health app can keep these entries private or make them shareable with their care providers.
Other patients might thrive through peer support groups. Their telepsychiatry team can connect them with the best virtual meetings to speak with others experiencing similar issues. Some patients require more than a weekly session to stay balanced. Their treatment program might include 24/7 access to licensed therapists via text message when they need support outside of their regularly scheduled appointments.
3. Improved Patient Compliance
Patient compliance is one of the hurdles practitioners face. Many things can prohibit individuals from making it to their appointment when they have psychiatric issues. For example, depression often saps people of energy. The thought of getting out of bed, getting dressed, and driving to a clinic might cause some folks to pull the covers back over their head and cancel.
However, the same person might welcome a phone call or Zoom session with their psychologist. Likewise, intervening factors like inclement weather and traffic snarls don’t prohibit telepsychiatry sessions from starting and ending on time.
Telepsychiatry is particularly useful for people with disabilities. Those who have medical conditions that keep them from driving often face additional hurdles getting to in-person appointments. They might not have adequate public transportation options where they live, and their insurance may not cover rides to appointments. Meeting over the internet eliminates the commute.
4. Enhanced Data Collection and Patient Recordkeeping
You might have heard the saying, “The internet is forever.” There’s an upside to the indelible electronic record produced by virtual communication. It enhances patient recordkeeping and data collection.
While federal law requires one-sided consent to record telephone conversations, care providers can ask patients for their permission at the start of each session. They can later review transcripts while adding to their notes instead of relying on memory.
Timekeeping devices can record patient compliance with session attendance and the number of minutes spent accurately. Facilities can provide access to electronic medical records, minimizing hassles for patients who move or switch doctors.
5. Reduced Overhead Costs
It costs money to rent office space and keep the lights and heater going. Telepsychiatry minimizes the need for in-person treatment rooms. Each dollar facilities spend on electricity and rent equates to less money devoted directly to patient care.
Another way telepsychiatry slashes overhead costs is by eliminating the need for managing teams of locum tenens providers. This term refers to the practice employed primarily by western states to bring trained health care specialists into underserved regions. Hiring practitioners from outside the area often means paying a premium to compensate these professionals for travel and lodging costs during their tenure.
6. Less Stress for Everyone
Perhaps the weightiest benefit of telepsychiatry is reduced stress for providers and patients alike. The COVID-19 pandemic placed unprecedented strain on care professionals, and many are suffering from burnout, affecting the quality of service. The reduced strain of not traveling to in-person meetings, perhaps exposing themselves to risk, can make a significant difference.
Patients also benefit from the decreased stress associated with telepsychiatry. Some individuals might feel intimidated sharing the most intimate details of their trauma in person. However, a computer screen provides an illusion of distance and safety, making broaching sensitive issues less frightening.
Benefits of Telepsychiatry
Long wait times for in-person treatment can frustrate those in a mental health crisis. Additionally, traditional therapy creates noncompliance issues when travel is inadvisable and is stressful for providers and patients. Telepsychiatry offers multiple benefits, including expanded access to care and a wider range of therapeutic options.