Can Telepsychiatry Fill The Gap In Mental Health Care? | WGLT

Can Telepsychiatry Fill The Gap In Mental Health Care?

Feb 12, 2019

Fifty percent of counties in the U.S. have no mental health physician. That’s according to Mennonite College of Nursing professor Cindy Kerber.

Without utilizing telepsychiatry, she said many communities in need would go without care.

“Telemedicine is the delivery of medical services assessment and treatment via video conferencing,” Kerber said. “So a telehealth appointment would look like something similar to FaceTime or Skype, only the video conferencing platform is HIPAA compliant. So with that means that it would be confidential for both the provider and the patient.”

Kerber teaches mental health and psychiatry at ISU. She said telehealth allows physicians to see clients from across the country.

“If the provider is seeing patients in a variety of different clinics or locations, they don't have to drive to and from,” Kerber said. “In addition, it might be a nice benefit for the client to participate and telepsych from their home.”

McLean County is turning to telepsychiatry to help fill sudden gaps in mental health care caused by the Center for Human Services' decision to stop accepting new clients for psychiatric treatment.

The County Board has hired Genoa Healthcare to provide telepsychiatry treatment for behavioral health referrals. It will pay $210 per hour for consultation by a psychiatrist and $150 per hour by an advanced practice registered nurse. The funding will come from revenue generated though sales tax dollars previously earmarked for mental health care.

Upsides to Telepsychiatry

Kerber said telehealth care also provides anonymity to clients who are concerned about the stigma that often comes with seeking mental health care.

With telepsychiatry, a patient can be comfortable in their home while chatting. Kerber said the physical distance doesn’t seem to make a difference in care.

“Research so far is indicating that video conferencing is very effective," she said. "I agree that it's probably nicer to be face to face, both for patient preference and for the provider preference. But in cases when that's not possible, video conferencing is a really wonderful option.”

Despite the screen, care is similar to any other in-person appointment.

“The provider, which could be a physician or nurse practitioner or a physician's assistant, does have the capabilities through video conferencing of both seeing and hearing,” she said. “And with being able to visualize you have both the verbal and nonverbal communication.”

As for the medication, that’s pretty much the same, Kerber explained. If the physician decides the client needs medication, she said they call it into the pharmacy just like any other doctor appointment. Then a follow-up telehealth appointment can be scheduled to assess the effectiveness of the medication and any concerns.

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