5 Applications of Telepsychiatry in an ED Setting

Applications of telepsychiarty


With limited treatment options available, millions of patients flood the emergency department (ED) amid a psychiatric emergency. However, despite nearly one in eight ED visits being related to a mental disorder or substance abuse, many hospital EDs are not equipped to handle high volumes of psychiatric patients. This results in long wait times that can last anywhere from hours to days, overcrowded EDs, and deteriorating patient conditions.

Fortunately, telepsychiatry offers a solution to quickly diagnosis, stabilize, and discharge psychiatric patients so that EDs and onsite staff do not become overwhelmed. What type of psychiatric emergencies can telepsychiatry support?

Here are 5 of the most common applications of telepsychiatry in an ED setting.

What is a psychiatric emergency?   

Psychiatric emergencies are life threatening events that require immediate attention and treatment. Most psychiatric emergencies occur when a patient:

  • Seeks to commit harm against themselves
  • Seeks to commit harm against others
  • Can no longer take care of or provide for themselves
  • Appears at risk to any of the above

If a patient suffers from any of the below psychiatric emergencies, telepsychiatry can offer a solution to diagnose, stabilize, and provide much needed care.

Acute Psychoses

It’s true that some patients live with psychosis as an ever-present condition, such as feelings of paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions, without the need to visit the ED. However, if those symptoms start to present themselves in a manner that makes the patient a danger to themselves or others, an ED visit is necessary to prevent harm to the patient, to others, and before conditions deteriorate further.


Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. When patients enter the ED either contemplating suicide, having recently made, or were prevented from making an attempt, a psychiatrist is required to provide an evaluation before discharge is possible. However, with a shortage of psychiatrists across the country, many of these patients are left waiting for hours, or even days.

Telemedicine expands access to psychiatrists and provides much faster response times to stabilize and evaluate patients.

Severe Anxiety

Anxiety can cause feelings of dread, uneasiness, rapid heart rate, excessive sweating, and other symptoms. Low levels of anxiety are common and can be triggered from common events like solving a difficult problem at work, or prior to taking an important exam. However, once those feelings escalate, emergency services may be required to treat and manage symptoms.  

Patients entering the ED suffering from severe anxiety are likely to feel panicked and concerned they are in danger. Telepsychiatry can return individuals to a more normal state.

Substance abuse or withdrawal

With nearly 6% of Americans (or 15 million) suffering from an alcohol addiction, and 2.1 million with an opioid disorder, alcohol, substance abuse, and withdrawal are some of the most common reasons for an emergency psychiatric visit. In fact, nearly half of all ED visits in the US are related to substance use disorders. Fortunately, telemedicine is proving to be a valuable treatment option in the fight against addiction and supporting patients on the road to recovery.

VirtualMed Staff physician, Dr. Atul Sheth, utilizes telemedicine in the fight against opiate addiction. Find out more about his work and passions in his physician spotlight here.

Mood disorders

Mood disorders are a mental health class that describe a broad range of depression and bipolar disorders. Major depression, bipolar disorder, and dysthymia are a few of the most common mood disorders seen in an emergency psychiatry and can be treated in a variety of ways, such as anti-depressants, mood stabilizing medicines, psychotherapy, or a combination of treatments.


Telepsychiatry provides a much-needed solution to hospital EDs facing high volumes of psychiatric patients. With a growing shortage of board-certified psychiatrists and a rising mental health crisis in America, telepsychiatry can address these 5 common presentations and more. This enables hospitals to reduce wait times, avoid unnecessary bed days, and provide much needed care to patients in need.

If psychiatric patient coverage is a challenge in your hospital’s ED, an experienced telemedicine partner like VirtualMed Staff can help. Schedule a call with a virtual consultant today and let’s get started.