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By April 8, 2010Commentary

The California HealthCare Foundation conducts and publishes research on a variety of health issues.  In a recent report it looked at telemedicine as practiced for psychiatric needs in emergency rooms.  (CHF Study) The authors conducted a literature search and surveyed ER programs using telepsychiatry.  The survey reflected good patient and provider acceptance of the programs.  A total of eight ER telepsychiatry programs were identified, many of which had been in existence for ten years or more.

Most were financially sustainable, although some needed grants to be in that position.  Reimbursement was a concern for all the programs.  The cost of equipment and ongoing operation has become relatively minimal.  The typical use was for a relatively brief initial assessment of a patient believed to have a potential mental health problem.  California alone has several hundred thousand ER visits a year related to mental health issues and these patients can often be disruptive and time-consuming for staff.  So the ability to quickly access a professional via telecommunications is valuable.

Time also has a recent story on telepsychiatry, focusing on its use for children and teenagers.    (Time Story) As is common with most telemedicine, geographic barriers and a shortage of psychiatrists makes use of communications technology an excellent solution.  Patients appear to perceive the quality as equal to in-person visits.  The telepsychiatry appointments can often be arranged must faster than in-person ones and save on transportation costs.  They also can avoid the potential stigma, anxiety or embarrassment accompanying  in-person visits.  Technology-savvy young people seem very comfortable with telepsychiatry.

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