Telepsychiatry Proves Cost Efficient and Effective
> 6/6/2007 3:16:36 PM

Earlier this week, we highlighted two groups who continue to be underserved in the area of mental health services: rural residents and returning veterans and their families. The former has received less care due to a lack of mental health practitioners. Veterans on the other hand are not receiving proper care for a wide and complex variety of reasons. What these two situations have in common is a failure of the current system to provide adequate services, and in both cases a new paradigm, or a shifting of the existing paradigm, of treatment could benefit everyone. This month, the journal Psychiatric Services published a pair of studies that address the idea of telepsychiatry, a topic that has received greater attention as technology has advanced.

Both of these new journal articles support the viability of telepsychiatry, albeit from two wholly different angles. The first study, Is Telepsychiatry Equivalent to Face-to-Face Psychiatry?, tested whether there are similar clinical outcomes for both methods of treatment. Approximately five hundred patients from Ontario were randomly assigned to receive either in-person or remote counseling. Even though one might expect some patients less comfortable with technology to be skeptical of telepsychiatry, this study found that there was no statistically significant difference in the patient satisfaction of both groups. It is logical to assume that patients who actively seek out telepsychiatry would reach even higher levels of satisfaction.

With the parity of effectiveness established, the other major objection raised by detractors in the past was on grounds of economic efficiency. Fortunately, this objection is addressed by the second study appearing in Psychiatric Services. This study of 53 Native Americans in rural areas showed that the costs of treatment for established clinics in 2005 (including transmission, travel, personnel, and equipment) were on average $12,000 lower for telepschiatry. This is an impressive number because just two years earlier, telepsychiatry costs were actually $1,700 higher than traditional methods. This is a clear trend towards greater efficiency that will probably continue with improvements in communication technology and clinical technique. We know that there is a need that telepsychiatry meets. These two studies illustrate that there is a workable way to deliver those services.

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