Telepsychiatry and the evolution of mental healthcare

Telepsychiatry and the evolution of mental healthcare


Mental health and its treatment have a long and complicated history. Mental illness has been in existence since the beginning of humankind, and individuals with mental health struggles have been, and always will be, part of our story. It is reported that Abraham Lincoln and Charles Dickens suffered from depression, Ludwig von Beethoven and Winston Churchill carried the struggle of bipolar disorder, and Isaac Newton and Vaslav Nijinsky lived with schizophrenia. Unfortunately for many, there were not proper names or diagnoses for most of these disorders until the 20th century. What was known as psychosis, hysteria, or (in some more notable cases) demonic possession are now known as common conditions like anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

However, medicine is an evolving field. As diagnosis and treatment became more widespread, acceptance and outcomes have improved. Advocates such as Dorothea Dix and organizations like Mental Health America lead the movement toward better patient therapies. Today, there is more outreach than ever. The combination of a better understanding of these disorders and the use of technology, such as telepsychiatry, are helping more mental health patients get the care they need. But this wasn’t always the case. 


Mental health treatment throughout history

Struggling with and treating a mental health issue in the past could have been quite dangerous. In the middle ages, patients were often met with extreme discrimination and seen as outcasts or witches. This period is not known for the beneficial medical practices of the day, and mental disorder treatment was no different, with patients subjected to exorcisms or odd medications. By the 18th century, doctors usually divided mental health issues into two categories: physical illness or possession, with the latter treated with an array of unhelpful herbs, admittance to unscrupulous mental hospitals, or even surgeries. 

By the time the 19th and 20th centuries rolled around, Freudian therapeutic techniques and electroconvulsive therapies became more widespread, with some versions of these treatments still in use today. Even one of the earliest forms of telemedicine made its debut in the late 1950s, as Norfolk State Hospital and the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute utilized closed-circuit televisions to deliver consultations, educational seminars, and conduct research, laying the groundwork for the telehealth services we know today.


Modern mental healthcare

In the modern-day, mental healthcare has undoubtedly come a long way. There is more awareness and acceptance in the media, and even celebrities have come forward with their struggles, further reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. More children are being diagnosed earlier, meaning better long-term outcomes. Governments are getting involved and passing legislation to help those in need of care. Workplaces are implementing mental health days and offering on-site access to therapy. And thanks to technology and virtual options, more people can access care through telepsychiatry. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), telepsychiatry can include psychiatric evaluations and diagnoses, therapy, medication management, or client education. The APA also states that there is strong evidence pointing to improved outcomes and high client satisfaction ratings from telepsychiatry. Many believe virtual visits are equivalent to in-person visits regarding treatment effectiveness, the quality of care, diagnosis accuracy, and patient privacy and confidentiality.


Some benefits of telepsychiatry for patients

During a telepsychiatry visit, behavioral health physicians are on hand virtually to perform many of the same services an in-person provider would do, making it a preferred method for many due to: 

  1. Convenience - Because the physician is virtual, patients can be seen where it makes the most sense for them, whether in an emergency room or their living room. 
  2. Faster Care - Telemedicine reduces wait times for those in need of immediate treatments and prioritizes the most critical psychiatric cases for the clinic staff. 
  3. Accessibility - With no long drives and appointments outside of regular business hours, care is more available to those in rural areas or who have challenges with transportation.


Some benefits of telepsychiatry for providers

While the benefit for patients is immediate and efficient, physicians often prefer working with a telepsychiatry partner or even becoming a full-time telemedicine provider themselves. 

  1. Reduces No-Shows - As accessibility is significantly increased and the time commitment on the part of the patient is decreased, patients are more likely to make and keep their appointments. 
  2. It’s Flexible – Telemedicine providers enjoy more work/life balance with flexible hours and are able to make a schedule that suits their needs. 
  3. Return on Investment – For those implementing telemedicine into their practice, the ROI is almost immediate as it reduces transfers and improves utilization of the emergency department.


Improving the future of mental healthcare

The medical field is constantly evolving, continually improving. The purpose of utilizing technology to treat those suffering from a mental illness is to deliver better care faster and easier. If you would like to learn more about how virtual providers can offer virtual, comprehensive mental healthcare that is just as meaningful as a face-to-face visit, contact VirtualMed and get started.

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