The United States is facing a severe shortage of psychiatrists, in which 55 percent of counties nationwide currently have no psychiatrists available, according to a new report. This shortage is impacting the country's health care system, particularly for primary-care doctors, who increasingly have to assume these roles to treat mental or behavioral health conditions.
Taking on mental health care often requires more time and resources to adequately assess and treat such conditions, which can further limit the valuable time doctors have with other patients at the point of care.
Moreover, the delivery of specialized mental healthcare can be out of the realm of expertise or comfort for many primary-care doctors. When it is, it makes sense to refer care to psychiatry providers. Yet, due to the current shortage of psychiatrists, patients may need to wait weeks—sometimes even months—to be seen by a local psychiatry provider in their community.
This is where direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry, also known as in-home telepsychiatry, can help fill the gap for primary-care doctors. Telepsychiatry is a type of telemedicine that uses videoconferencing to provide psychiatric evaluation, consultation and treatment.
Why direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry?
Telepsychiatry offers several benefits, and meets the standard of traditional in-person care. Telepsychiatry can meet patients where they are, whether at home or in a private office, eliminating time spent traveling to appointments or in waiting rooms. It also allows more flexibility with scheduling, as direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry providers usually work from home themselves and can offer appointments during non-traditional hours, including evenings and weekends.
By eliminating long wait times associated with community-based psychiatry options, direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry enables greater accessibility to psychiatry providers and supports continuity of care. It expands the reach outside the local community, so patients have access to high quality care and a variety of specialized providers. As long as a telepsychiatry provider is licensed in the state where a patient is physically located, they can deliver care. This also opens the door for patients to continue seeing their same psychiatry provider throughout many life transitions; including job changes, college, and vacations.
Just like with in-person treatment, patients meet with the same telepsychiatry provider over time, allowing the patient and his or her consented primary-care doctor to develop a rapport with the remote psychiatrist. By ensuring the mental health of a patient is appropriately addressed, primary-care doctors can better attend to the patient's physical health.
Key considerations when referring patients
Referring patients to direct-to-consumer telepsychiatry is similar to referring to any outpatient setting. Like other referrals, the process begins with an intake of patient's medical history and applicable screenings to determine if the patient requires specialty care.
Telepsychiatry is versatile and has been proven effective with all age groups. For patients who worry about mental or behavioral health stigmas, telepsychiatry may help them follow-up with referrals to psychiatry providers who they can see through telehealth as opposed to those they would have to see in-person.
Referral coordinators can help determine if a patient is appropriate for in-home, direct-to-consumer treatment by asking a few simple questions and considering the following: