The American Psychiatric Association defines telemedicine as “the process of providing healthcare from a distance through technology, often using videoconferencing. Telepsychiatry, a subset of telemedicine, can involve providing a range of services including psychiatric evaluations, therapy (individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy), patient education and medication management.”
Telepsychiatry has three typical approaches:
- Home care
- On demand or as needed telepsychiatry. This is typically delivered in hospitals in the emergency room or other units.
- Other scheduled services. These are typically delivered to healthcare facilities in an outpatient setting.
In essence, telepsychiatry can involve direct interaction with the psychiatrist and patient or a psychiatrist providing a consultation to other healthcare providers about a particular patient.
During the times of COVID-19, telepsychiatry has become increasingly crucial. With so many people having fear and anxiety about the current situation and staying at home without consulting a psychiatrist in the clinical setting and many mental health facilities limiting available services. Isolation due to stay-at-home orders have also been a major obstacle for patients in need. As the pandemic continues, everyone is most likely feeling some sort of strain on their mental health. Between frustration about the current situation, anxiety over what could come of things, and other normal stressors on top of the pandemic has caused a crisis, especially for those with existing mental health conditions.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five adults in the US will experience a mental illness each year. About half of those affected will receive mental health services. Mental illnesses is an umbrella term for many different conditions that range in a degree of severity from anywhere from mild to severe. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for telepsychiatry has increased exponentially.
Until 2020, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has limited the coverage for many telepsychiatry services. With the pandemic, CMS has lifted Medicare restricts on the use of telepsychiatry to provide reimbursement to psychiatrists and other mental healthcare providers within the 1135 blanket waiver. CMS adopted further temporary policy changes on April 30 with the goal being to “increase access to telehealth for Medicare patients so they can get care from their physicians and other clinicians while staying safely at home.”