Mental Health issues are becoming more prevalent. As we try to move away from the corporate mess of things, we go back into the individual and his/her role in the company. Much of that delves into mental health and cognitive awareness. In response to this growing need, many practitioners have shifted careers to open up shop as counselors. With the advancement of technology, this has allowed for a relatively new means of providing the service: telepsychiatry.
The nature of counseling is one that is intimate and in-depth. This is why a good chunk of the population are actually quite hesitant of telepsychiatry in its current form. They feel that communicating their deepest fears and insecurities over the phone or receiving advice through a video degrades the practice and limits the session.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) disagrees. There are moves to make the practice more mainstream. By May 2016, Virginia became the first state to institutionalize telepsychiatry through the Telehealth Law.
The Telehealth Law sought to ‘expand commercial insurance coverage of telemedicine-based services’. More often than not, patients and clients will flock to an insured service. Prior to the Telehealth Law, telepsychiatry was not recognized by majority of insurance companies – but with its enactment, more people are availing telepsychiatry.
The Telehealth Law defines telepsychiatric practice as “the use of electronic technology or media, including interactive audio, or video, for the purpose of diagnosing or treating a patient or consulting with other health care providers regarding a patient’s diagnosis or treatment.” This not only practicably defined the practice to avoid any confusion as to what it was, but it also helped to open up many traditional psychiatrists to incorporating technology into their work.
A month after the Telehealth Law, the Virginia Board of Medicine published Telemedicine Guidelines as a policy-forming tool for practitioners. These sets of rules would be adopted by most other states who have not yet passed a similar form of legislation. While other states have provided their own renditions of the Telehealth Law in later years, the Virginia Telemedicine Guidelines are considered the mould by which those laws were formulated.
Here are some of its salient features:
- Licensed Practitioners Only: Just because everyone had a computer, not everyone can be a telepsychiatrist. The practitioner must be a licensed psychiatrist.
- Range of Practice: Telepsychiatrists can only receive patients at the state where they are licensed. You cannot practice telepsychiatry outside of your jurisdiction. This makes it easier to counter-check the legitimacy of telepsychiatrists.
- Doctor-Patient Relationship: Regardless of whether or not they meet face-to-face, a doctor-patient relationship is automatically assumed the moment the necessary requisites are met (i.e., verification of identity and address, disclosure of credentials, etc.). This invokes state-guarded privacy and protection.
- Similar Standards to Conventional Practice: Practicing psychiatry online, on the line, or in your office all require the same set of guidelines and standards. There are no exceptions to this rule and telepsychiatrists can be disciplined for any violation of such. From the confidentiality of medical records to the nondisclosure of information online or through the phone, patients have this option. This applies to both consultation, treatment, and prescription.
- Accessibility: The concept of telepsychiatry is that it is easily accessible. The same does not apply to the records. Telepsychiatrists must maintain medical records as to their practice in telepsychiatry and the same records must be accessible to the practitioner and the patient with consent to the applicable laws.
Although relatively new to the health scene, telepsychiatry has been doing wonders for mental health issues by way of its openness and its convenience. The same benefits however have been the target of staunch criticism and the fear of data leaks are real. To assuage these public hesitations, Virginia passed the Telehealth Law in 2016 which became the first legislature to provide for state-imposed guidelines for the practice. Since then, many other states have seen telepsychiatry as a necessary service and have passed their own adaptations of the Telehealth Law. As telepsychiatry finds its way into mainstream practice, people must be informed of how important it is to stay mentally healthy, that they are well protected by such laws, and that the service is a great benefit to the population in the long term.