InSight Telepsychiatry Provider Spends Vacation Meeting Clients and Staff She Serves at West Michigan Mental Health Center

Recently, Dr. Allende packed up her family and drove out to Ludington for a vacation that included a special visit to the center. She had planned the trip months in advance, incorporating several days’ worth of consults, consumer appointments, and opportunities to see and meet staff in-person for the first time. “Staff at WMCMH are so wonderful, they are all so kind-hearted. I really wanted to meet with them,” she says.

During her 7-day trip, Dr. Allende spent 3 workdays at the center. She reports that if she could have, she would have spent her whole vacation there.

The staff at the center feels the same: Karen Goodman, Team Leader at WMCMH says, “For us, the time spent getting to know Dr. Allende and her family was too short. She is a wonderful doctor. The caring, intelligent, and vivacious personality that we get over the televideo equipment was multiplied in person. The staff was so thrilled to meet and spend time consulting with her on cases.”

WMCMH covers three counties in rural Northwest Michigan and provides mental health services including intensive case management to children and adults with developmental disabilities and severe and persistent mental illness. WMCHC bases its service model on recovery and stresses the importance of keeping people within their community and in touch with their personal support systems. WMCMH also provides 24-hour crisis coverage, therapy, medication management, and parenting and psycho-educational groups.

When it comes to the acceptability of telepsychiatry, Dr. Allende reports that while some people are wary at first, by the end of their first session they have become comfortable, often forgetting that she isn’t actually in the room with them. In fact, when her clients return for their next session, many are even excited about the medium of their care.

Goodman believes this may be due in part to Dr. Allende’s ability to effectively communicate her personality and connect with consumers through the televideo equipment; something telepsyhciatrists must do to succeed in their practice. “Dr. Allende’s personality projects; she is engaging and demonstrates compassion, while being supportive and educating the patients on their illness and the medications she prescribes,” says Goodman.

When it comes to practicing telepsychiatry, Dr. Allende is excited herself. “I would never have been able to work in Michigan had I not been a telepsychiatrist. The West Michigan staff is so generous and smart, and people really value the access to a psychiatrist. It has been an extremely rewarding experience.”

According to Goodman, one of the most pervasive challenges of living in Northern Michigan is access to human resources and psychiatric services in particular. This problem correlates with a national shortage of psychiatrists. A 2009 study found that 96% of counties have unmet needs for psychiatric prescribers.

However, as Dr. Allende’s work at WMCMH shows, telepsychiatry can be an effective means of augmenting existing services. Telepsychiatry also falls in line with WMCHC’s belief that recovery is partially dependent on keeping behavioral health consumers in their communities. “In Northern Michigan we have limited access to psychiatric hospitals,” Goodman says, “On the occasion when we have to hospitalize an individual, we have to consider placements that are 200-300 miles away. This distance does not provide the level of involvement we prefer, nor are families easily able to participate in their loved ones treatment process.”

Dr. Allende has been practicing telepsychiatry with InSight Telepsychiatry, LLC for the past 5 years. InSight employs psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners to serve routine and crisis telepsychiatry programs in 13 states.