The Physician Spotlight Series is an opportunity to highlight the value and expertise of VirtualMed Staff’s team of physicians. Throughout this series, our goal is to share our physicians’ stories, their journeys with telemedicine, and detail the value and benefits that telemedicine offers to patients across the country.
For most psychiatrists, the decision to dedicate their lives towards improving the mental health and well-being of patients is a calling. After all, this career choice is nothing short of demanding, requiring years of schooling, constant training, and an intensive schedule.
For Dr. Tahir Khan, a psychiatrist with VirtualMed Staff who currently serves on several telepsychiatry panels across the country, the pursuit of mental and behavioral health stemmed from a personal connection. “I had people in my family who had mental illness, so I understood firsthand the barriers of receiving quality treatment and the stigmas associated with mental illness,” says Dr. Khan.
Throughout his career, Dr. Khan has had the opportunity to practice psychiatry in a variety of care settings, but in recent years has pivoted primarily towards telemedicine for the benefits it provides to both patients and providers. In this Physician Spotlight, we highlight Dr. Khan’s holistic approach to patient care, his journey with telemedicine, and the future of telemedicine post-pandemic.
The journey to telemedicine
Dr. Khan’s journey to telemedicine began as a part-time pursuit, but quickly transitioned to a full-time career once the benefits became more apparent. “Initially, it was the flexibility that drew me to practice telemedicine,” says Dr. Khan. “However, as I kept doing it, I became impressed with the way you can use technology to become more productive and see more patients in a shorter amount of time.”
Unlike a physical practice, telemedicine can enhance a psychiatrist’s ability to treat patients faster and without geographical limitations. “I can turn on my computer and treat patients in California, then Tennessee,” says Dr. Khan. “But the biggest benefit was being able to see patients in underserved areas.”
The psychiatrist shortage in the United States is an ongoing challenge. According to a report by New American Economy, “While there are an estimated 612 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in parts of New York, there is less than 1 in Idaho. In 185 out of 254 counties in Texas, there are zero.” Telemedicine is helping to bridge the shortage gap and enables psychiatrists like Dr. Khan to expand services to patients in areas that lack a psychiatrist.
“That’s what patients and hospitals really appreciate about telemedicine - It cuts down on their wait times and it’s a good use of technology and improves outcomes for a lot of people.”
A specialty well-suited for a virtual setting
It’s no surprise that psychiatry is particularly well-suited for telemedicine. Even without physical contact, a psychiatrist can begin diagnosing and consulting with a patient using only a communication platform. “You might not physically be in the same room with the patient, but the core principles are the same,” says Dr. Khan.
Dr. Khan continues to explain that psychiatry and behavioral health is more focused on getting to know the patient, their traumas, stresses, protective factors, and so on. “You can’t learn those through a set of labs – you need to treat the patient holistically and understand their history first before you can treat them,” says Dr. Khan.
Treating patients with mental or behavioral health issues requires a holistic approach. Whereas lab results and tests can lead to medical conclusion, diagnosing mental illness requires connecting with the patient on a personal level, understanding their history, background, and more. “The personal component is definitely unique to behavioral health,” remarks Dr. Khan.
Telemedicine in a post-pandemic era
At the onset of the pandemic, telepsychiatry quickly became the solution for patients seeking mental and behavioral care once access to in-person care became limited. In fact, according to VirtualMed Staff data, telepsychiatry visits increased an average of 61% between April and August 2020 across all clients. However, with the pandemic seemingly in the rearview, some anticipate a decrease in telemedicine adoption.
“With COVID, telemedicine started booming,” says Dr. Khan, “But, even with the pandemic winding down, I don’t see telemedicine demand going away anytime soon.”
One of the main reasons Dr. Khan anticipates telemedicine remaining as a valuable healthcare option is the simple convenience of it. “People have gotten comfortable with telemedicine, both patients and physicians, so I don’t think adoption will regress.” Dr. Khan continues, “It might slow down in some specialties, but not in psychiatry.”
Especially with an ongoing mental health crisis occurring in the United States. According to reports by Mental Health America, 24% of adults with a mental illness report an unmet need for treatment. Coupled with the nationwide shortage mentioned earlier, and telepsychiatry represents a promising bridge between addressing an ongoing need and addressing a well-known shortage.
Dr. Khan’s dedication and commitment to telemedicine is a testament to the value of virtual care and the benefits it provides to millions of patients across the country. As a valued member of VirtualMed Staff’s team of virtual physicians, we’re thankful to Dr. Khan for allowing us to share his story and look forward to sharing more in the future.