As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of people using online psychiatry (also called telepsychiatry) sessions has increased dramatically. According to one survey by the American Psychiatric Association, 98.1% of psychiatrists post-COVID have conducted virtual psychiatry sessions. Before the pandemic began, this number was just 36%.
Now that telepsychiatry is more mainstream, people with mental health challenges are finding better access to care. If you’re unsure about virtual health care, read onward to learn three pros and three cons of online psychiatry.
PRO: Accessibility and convenience
If you have a packed calendar, then telepsychiatry might be a good way to fit mental health treatment into your schedule. With telepsychiatry, you don’t have to worry about commuting to and from your psychiatrist’s office. You can attend appointments in your own home or car or wherever there’s reliable internet access, privacy, and an ability to focus on your appointment.
In addition, you now have a wider range of mental health providers to choose from, as you are no longer limited to those who are close to where you live or work. As long as your psychiatrist is licensed to practice in the state where you are physically located, you’ll be able to meet with them for your treatment.
CON: Reliance on the internet
One online psychiatry hangup that doesn’t occur with in-person meetings is, of course, the unreliable internet connection. If you are in an area with low bandwidth such as public wifi or have poor reception, you might experience performance issues such as buffering or freezing as you’re trying to communicate with your psychiatrist. These interruptions break up the natural flow of conversation and make it more difficult for both parties to communicate freely.
If you’re looking for online psychiatry, be mindful of your Wi-Fi’s capacity (or better yet, find a hard-wired ethernet connection) and how it might handle a half-hour or hour-long video call.
PRO: Deeper relationship
For some patients, their first psychiatry appointment might be daunting. Meeting their psychiatrist in their home can make the experience more comfortable; instead of going to an office, they’re meeting their psychiatrist in their own home, on their own turf. This can make it easier for the patient to open up about their experiences.
Additionally, video conferencing also allows a psychiatrist to see into their patient’s home. This can give them more context into their patient’s life and living situation, which can help them better understand and thus help their patient.
CON: Insurance and provider limitations
Before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were fewer options for people who wanted to go through the telepsychiatry route. Some psychiatrists exclusively worked in person, and there were legal restrictions regarding who could treat who.
However, during the pandemic, more psychiatrists began doing online work, and some legislation was relaxed. While looking for a psychiatrist who can meet with you virtually currently will give you a wide range of options, this list is not infinite. You are limited to psychiatrists who are licensed to practice in your state and, if you’re planning to pay through insurance, who will be covered by your insurance company.
For example, if you live in Southern California and are looking for a psychiatrist to meet in person, you are limited to only psychiatrists in Southern California. However, if you want someone you can meet remotely, you can have your pick of psychiatrists from all over the state of California (and those who live elsewhere but are licensed to practice in California). However, you will not be able to be legally treated by a psychiatrist who lives in Nevada and can only practice in Nevada–unless you happen to be in Nevada on vacation.
One reason that people enjoy telepsychiatry is the knowledge that if they move within their state, their doctor will “go with them”. People who primarily meet with their psychiatrist in person might have to change psychiatrists as they move or switch over to meeting remotely. As long as your psychiatrist is able to practice wherever you move, you able to continue working with the psychiatrist you know and trust.
The therapeutic relationship is important for a positive treatment experience. However, those less accustomed to video conferencing and technology may find it awkward to establish such a relationship virtually.
Moreover, you are more likely to get distracted during online appointments than during in-person ones. When you are speaking to someone face-to-face, it is easier to devote your complete attention to them. By contrast, communicating with someone on the phone or over the computer often involves a lot more distractions, like email or text notifications popping up sporadically. If you tend to get distracted easily, or if it’s difficult for you to refocus after being distracted, you might benefit more from in-person psychiatry sessions.
Your relationship with your psychiatrist is often the most important factor in getting quality care, so if you don’t have any reservations, prioritize finding a psychiatrist that fits your schedule and needs. If you think that you might benefit from online psychiatry, consider Prairie Health. Prairie connects you with a psychiatrist, provides ongoing support over text, and includes the option of genetic testing in the first month to help your provider decide your treatment. There are some people who may not be a fit for our platform, but for everyone else, you’ve come to the right place for your mental health.