Alex Keuroghlian, MD, MPH, a physician investigator in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, is the author of a new commentary in Nature Medicine, Telehealth for Psychiatry and Mental Healthcare can Improve Access and Patient Outcomes
What Question Were You Investigating?
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about a tremendous surge in the deployment and use of telehealth, with more than 50% of all mental health visits occurring by telehealth by December 2020
What are the benefits of this more widespread adaption of telehealth services for psychiatry, and what barriers still need to be addressed?
What Did You Find?
Many studies have documented high patient satisfaction with telepsychiatry due to its elimination of travel time and other stressors related to medical appointments.
Telepsychiatry provides patients with greater scheduling flexibility, enables access to a wider array of mental health treatment options, and facilitates in-home interventions and exercises.
For patients, barriers to telehealth services include lack of access to broadband internet service and an unfamiliarity with the technology. These barriers could exacerbate existing disparities in mental health outcomes for those who are economically disadvantaged, older or living in rural areas.
For clinicians, barriers to telehealth uptake include resistance to change and concerns about the service quality of virtual visits.
To attain the full potential of telepsychiatry, a much broader range of technologies, services and healthcare contexts will need to be explored, the authors write.
Artificial intelligence (AI) tools could be used to collect patient information more efficiently and accurately, provide psychiatric diagnoses and treatment, and monitor patients for the onset of new symptoms.
Major domains for regulatory advancement include:
- Clinician licensing without geographic restriction
- Telepsychiatry insurance coverage for both patients and mental health practices
- Confidentially and cybersecurity protections
- Parity in telepsychiatry reimbursement
- Enabling of remote psychiatric prescriptions
Keuroghlian, A.S., Marcus, P.H., Neufeld, J. et al. Telehealth for psychiatry and mental healthcare can improve access and patient outcomes. Nat Med (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-023-02579-y
About the Massachusetts General Hospital
Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The Mass General Research Institute conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the nation, with annual research operations of more than $1 billion and comprises more than 9,500 researchers working across more than 30 institutes, centers and departments. Massachusetts General Hospital is a founding member of Mass General Brigham.