The Psychiatrist Shortage in Virginia

By James Varrell, MD

HOW TELEPSYCHIATRY CAN HELP

Due to trends in mental health advocacy and growing clinical evidence, people are increasingly recognizing the benefits of psychiatry and behavioral health care. For example, a 2012 study published in Contingencies measured the cost of a single employee’s depression over a two-year period prior to that employee receiving depression treatment and found the cost to the business to be as high as $3,386 per affected employee.

Unfortunately, even with a cultural shift towards addressing mental illness in Lynchburg, employers and families are struggling to get convenient and timely access to care due to a significant shortage of psychiatrists. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, there are over a million Virginians who experience mental illness and about 300,000 of those illnesses are classified as serious. Even with 930 psychiatrists licensed in Virginia, there simply aren’t enough providers to go around. As a psychiatrist, the demands for services can be overwhelming.

Moreover, because most psychiatrists are concentrated in Virginia’s urban pockets (Northern Virginia, the Richmond metropolitan area and Hampton Roads) many individuals outside of these areas endure long commutes to reach the nearest psychiatrist who has available appointment times. Oftentimes, getting care for oneself or a family member can be off-putting and stressful.

How Telepsychiatry Can Help
Telepsychiatry is a growing and clinically effective way to provide psychiatry, mental and behavioral health care to individuals through online video calls. Telepsychiatry can be used to provide psychiatric evaluations, consultations and treatment to individuals in various settings including outpatient offices, correctional facilities, hospitals, emergency departments, crisis centers or even in homes.

Facility-based telepsychiatry has a decent foothold in the healthcare industry. Today one of telepsychiatry’s newer applications, direct-to-consumer (D2C) telepsychiatry, is quickly becoming popular. D2C telepsychiatry allows providers to give psychiatry, mental and behavioral health care to people directly in their homes or any other private space. This takes away the stress of commuting to and from in-person offices. It also means that the time individuals and their families spend getting care is shortened to only the duration of the session, making it easier to fit into a busy schedule.

An Individual’s Experience with D2C Telepsychiatry
For example, one of my patients, whom I will call Anna, suffers from severe anxiety and depression. As a result of her disorder, Anna struggled to leave her home, and her husband, Rick, often had to take time off of work to accompany her to appointments with her psychiatrist whose office was 50 minutes away.

The stress of her appointments made Anna’s symptoms worse, negatively impacted Rick’s work and put additional strain on their family life.

It was in their search for a better care solution that Anna started to receive psychiatric medication management from me and therapy from one of my colleagues all through telepsychiatry. Anna started to access her sessions from home in the evenings after her children had gone to bed. Using telepsychiatry allowed her to receive treatment independently and the reduced stress of receiving care has empowered her and helped her to better cope with her disorder.

The Benefits of D2C Telepsychiatry

Anna’s experience is one that is shared by many Virginians who struggle to find a convenient psychiatry or behavioral health solution for themselves or their loved ones. Here are some of the many ways people can benefit from D2C telepsychiatry:
• Convenience. People can schedule appointments outside of traditional weekday hours and can easily attend sessions using any computer, tablet or smartphone in any private space with a reliable internet connection.

• Increased access to care. Telepsychiatry expands choices for providers and specialists beyond those who are within driving distance. Any provider nationwide who is licensed in the individual’s state can offer services to them. Practicing online means providers can spend more time treating people instead of traveling between offices.

• High-quality care. With more providers to pick from, people can choose the one who best fits their personality, needs and schedule. Reputable D2C telepsychiatry programs will have their providers trained to deliver telehealth appropriately and effectively.

• Privacy. Telepsychiatry is safe and secure. Some individuals prefer seeking care from the privacy of home without the fear of running into a nosy neighbor in the waiting room.

Not only does this type of treatment make it possible for people like Anna to receive care in a comfortable environment, but it also removes stress from their work and personal relationships. Telepsychiatry improves lives and is an excellent tool for increasing access to psychiatry and behavioral health care in Virginia communities.

Original story posted in Lynchburg Business Magazine.