Psychiatry and Telemedicine Offer a Key Partnership to Improve Care
Growing up in Alaska, Dr. Yolanda Evans saw firsthand the healthcare gaps found in rural populations, a divide that includes mental health care.
As an adolescent healthcare provider at Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she sees youths facing issues such as eating disorders and gender dysphoria, Evans has kept those concerns top of mind since joining the faculty in 2011.
“I knew that I wanted to try to serve more rural patients,” she says. “I understand the needs in these communities.”
Remote areas often lack specialists to provide counseling and intervention: A 2017 Merritt Hawkins report found 77 percent of U.S. counties reported a severe shortage of psychiatrists. The Association of American Medical Colleges notes that nearly two-thirds of practicing psychiatrists are 55 or older, setting the stage for a substantial retirement drain.
Meanwhile, 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year, federal data shows.
It’s why Evans and some colleagues are using videoconferencing technology to reach patients outside a clinic’s walls. Seattle Children’s offers telepsychiatry services not only in Washington state but also in Alaska, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
The hospital, which first established a telehealth program in 2001, has long made mental health a core part of its offerings. “Psychiatry was the most requested specialty across our partner sites,” says Dr. Kathleen Myers, a psychiatrist at Seattle Children’s.