The rise of telemedicine is seen as mostly good among those who keep an eye on the business side of medicine. Telemedicine is considered a way to reduce costs, make healthcare delivery more convenient for patients, and at least partially address the ongoing shortage of doctors and nurses. You might even make the case that telemedicine could be as revolutionary to medicine over the next 10 years as locum tenens has been since the turn of the 21st century.
If there is one area of medicine where the new technology is struggling, it is psychiatry. As you might expect, psychiatrists and their patients tend to value their time together more than primary care patients and their doctors. There’s something about that face-to-face interaction that seems to take psychiatry to the next level. Having said that, psychiatry still has a place in telemedicine.
The coming year could be transformational for telemedicine in psychiatry. Below are three things to know as we head into 2018. How these things play out will have a major impact on the future of telemedicine in psychiatry.
Primary care physicians are often the ‘jack of all trades’ clinicians. They might find themselves trying to get a handle on possible psychiatric problems even while treating a patient for something that seems completely unrelated. This is never an easy thing. But with the introduction of telemedicine, it is becoming more common for primary care offices to have direct access to psychiatrists who can sit in on visits.
If this sort of integration becomes the norm, it could help psychiatry implement a much broader reach than it now enjoys. It could also lead to more comprehensive care by encouraging multiple disciplines to work together on behalf of patients.
One of the things hindering telemedicine in psychiatry are the disparate reimbursement rates that come with it. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), there are just three states that require health insurance companies to reimburse psychiatrists identically for both telemedicine and in-person visits. There are 34 states, along with the District of Columbia, that require insurance companies to cover telemedicine services if those same services are offered in person, so at least that’s a start.
It looks like there will be a push in 2018 to encourage states to update their regulations for physician reimbursement. If a majority of states would get on board with reimbursement parity, one of the biggest barriers to telemedicine in psychiatry would be eliminated.
At the current time, telemedicine in all disciplines makes up only a very small portion of the total medical claims paid by insurance companies each year. The APA says that some of this is due to patient ignorance. In short, patients are not aware of the telemedicine options available to them.
Beyond patient ignorance is patient acceptance. It is generally believed that patients are comfortable with telemedicine for things like primary care and well checkups; they may not be as accepting for things like psychiatry, cardiology, oncology, and the like.
There is little doubt that telemedicine is here to stay. One way or the other, videoconferencing technology is going to transform the way medicine is delivered around the world. The only question remaining in the American healthcare system is how long full integration will take. The coming year could be transformational in that regard, especially were psychiatry is concerned. Perhaps we will look back at the end of 2018 to see substantial changes; changes that have made things measurably better.