Telepsychiatry: The Evidence is In
By: Laura P. Etre, Psy.D.
Chief Psychology Officer
Since we launched our telepsychiatry services through MedOptions Connect™ at the start of this year, I was unsure how our residents would receive the technology and how engaged they would be with their providers. In particular, I was concerned about the development of the therapeutic alliance and whether the technology would serve as a barrier to the relationship. However, after a few months of implementing telemedicine services, I can report quite the opposite.
During the initial telemedicine session, most residents responded with wonderment. They were amazed by the technology. I remember one 101-year-old resident who stared in shock for the first few minutes, since this type of video-conference was likely a first for her. After the first session, I found that the residents warmed up to the process and didn’t seem to even notice the computer anymore. Contrary to my concerns at the outset, the therapeutic alliance was able to be developed because there was no difference between whether I was physically sitting in the room versus on the screen when it came to the essential elements of a therapeutic alliance: genuine engagement, feeling empathy for the resident, unconditional positive regard and clear communication. We were still able to develop and work on goals together, the same as if I were in the room.
The MedOptions Connect™ telemedicine model has been so successful in our facilities for a few reasons. First, we have practically flawless technology at our disposal that allows our patients to feel like we are in the room with them. In addition, our team of MedOptions Connect™ Telemedicine Technicians who are on site at the facilities to do all of the leg work required including gathering chart information, bringing the technology to the residents and communicating with staff means that the telemedicine services do not require facility staff to be any more involved than they would be for MedOptions providers who are on site. Last and perhaps most importantly, our team of excellent clinicians who are well trained to provide services via telepsychiatry enables us to provide quality care.
Here at MedOptions, we quickly realized what a valuable resource telemedicine is in the behavioral health space. Our experiences are also supported by larger evidence-based studies on the efficacy of telemedicine in mental health care, including one 2015 study completed by a team at University of Michigan. The team reviewed more than 1300 telemedicine-related papers published in the last 10 years which included 59 randomized controlled trials. In their analysis, they found that overall the trials indicated high satisfaction rates for patients of all ages who engage in telepsychiatry. In addition, they found a strong evidence base supporting the use of telepsychiatry to improve the acceptance and efficiency of care and supporting improved clinical outcomes for patients, particularly those with depression, anxiety and medical comorbidities.
The efficacy of telemedicine is clear, and it’s based in empirical evidence. At MedOptions, we’re proud to be on the forefront of what we consider to be a vital part of the future of mental health services with MedOptions Connect™. We firmly believe that telepsychiatry is what will ultimately allow our industry to improve access to behavioral health care and improve patient outcomes.