America’s Mental Health Care System is in Crisis. Telepsychiatry Could be the Answer

Within the United States, 1/4 of adults can be diagnosed with one or multiple disorders in a single year, including depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and ADD/ADHD. Children are suffering too, with an estimated 1 in 5 diagnosed with a major debilitating disorder in either the present or past. While a clear need for adequate health care exists, these needs fall short of being met, and the costs for both the afflicted and our society as a whole are dire. When individuals with mental disorders fail to get the treatment they need, they often end up in prison. In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), up to 40% of all mentally ill Americans will land themselves in the prison system at some point or another. Not only is that a tremendous bleed of resources, but this lack of care neglects those suffering from mental disorders and furthers the stigma of the mentally ill as criminals.

Oftentimes, one of the biggest obstacles preventing the mentally ill from getting the help they need is accessibility. For those who live in rural areas, treatment centers can often be too far for people to visit regularly. There also tends to be a lack of psychiatrists in these areas. And for those suffering with debilitating mental disorders, physically leaving the house to seek treatment may not be an option. But new technological innovations in the medical field are making these obstacles easier to combat, in the form of telemedicine psychiatry. Telepsychiatry enables psychiatrists to communicate with patients via telemedicine video conferencing software.

There are many benefits to this method of treatment. Telepsychiatry is accessible in its simplicity, as all a patient needs is a webcam and a computer to communicate with their doctor. This system also ensures patient confidentiality by using HIPAA compliant software whilst telemedicine video conferencing. Telepsychiatry also caters to individuals whose disorder makes it difficult for them to leave their homes. In a recent 18-month study, more individuals who were seeking treatment via telepsychiatry kept their appointments (92%) than those who had in-person sessions (87%).

In practice, telepsychiatry is working, and is helping to change the face of psychiatric care as we know it. Since the 80s, South Carolina has had a serious need for psychiatrists and adequate mental health facilities. Many individuals with mental disorders continually wound up in the ER, staying for multiple nights and straining already strapped budgets.

In 2006, health director John McGill proposed an initiative to pursue technological healthcare solutions. From there, he began “deploying” psychiatrists to underserved, rural areas through telemedicine software. In turn, many individuals were able to get the care they needed, without anyone having to lift a finger.

Though still in its early stages, telemedicine software proves to be a promising solution for South Carolina. ER stays for mental health patients have been significantly shorter, and patients who have used the program have a 200% likelihood to pursue aftercare.

Telehealth technologies offer timely solutions to psychiatric care in our technological world. As our world becomes increasingly digital, it may just be the vital piece to the telemental health care picture that we’ve been missing all along.