The Doctor Is Always In: Telepsychiatry expands the reach of mental healthcare

May 9, 2011 - 0 Comments

When they looked recently into their crystal balls, some Houston doctors saw a future of less face time with patients and more technology in the hospital or office.  But the oracle didn’t show them the HD telepresence technology actually facilitating doctor-patient face time in a medical center in their very own city.

In a March podcast, the New York Times highlighted the work of JSA Health, a telepsychiatry practice providing mental health services via telepresence to inmates in Texas prisons and people in rural areas who otherwise would not have access to psychiatric help.  Through telepresence over secure, private connections, JSA Health can “beam a happy, smiling psychiatrist into any location,” said the company’s chief medical officer, Dr. Avrim Fishkind.  The technology has proven especially helpful in providing psychiatric evaluations during emergency situations in community medical centers, schools, jails, or other locations that may not have a psychiatrist physically present.

It’s technology with which we’re quite familiar, and we’re proud to have deployed it for other communities in need of accessible mental healthcare.  Since 2008, Maryland’s Mid-Shore Mental Health Systems, Inc. has used our TelePresence equipment to provide telepsychiatry services to patients in rural counties suffering from healthcare provider shortages.  With TelePresence, doctors at the University of Maryland School of Medicine reach patients critically in need of help, including children, adolescents, elderly, and people with co-occurring mental health and substance abuse issues.

Likewise, in 2007, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS) launched its telehealth network, which has expanded from an initial 35 endpoints to 128 locations throughout the state (as of July 2010).  TelePresence lets ODMHSAS provide psychiatric, counseling, and substance-abuse treatment to more than 8,000 patients annually, many of whom live in rural areas without access to local care.

Based on the success of all of these telepsychiatry providers, when I look in my crystal ball, I see the trend in telehealth continuing.  I see doctors, well-lit on clear telepresence screens, providing the treatment in which they were uniquely trained… just maybe under different circumstances than they originally imagined.

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