Psychiatrists 'pleasantly surprised' with transition to telemedicine

A qualitative RAND Corporation study finds that psychiatrists offering telemedicine for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic have had largely positive perceptions of the transition. Many, however, say they plan to return to in-person care when possible, due to the challenges psychiatric telemedicine entail.


Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a variety of logistical and regulatory hurdles prevented many psychiatrists from using telemedicine. Although research supported the efficacy of video telepsychiatry, the National Institute of Mental Health-funded study notes, only 5% of psychiatrists in the Medicare program had ever provided a telemedicine visit.

“While there were some pockets where psychiatrists were doing a lot of telemedicine, that wasn’t the norm in the United States,” said Lori Uscher-Pines, lead author on the report and senior policy researcher at RAND.

The research team interviewed 20 outpatient psychiatrists in regions where early flares of COVID-19 activity had triggered social distancing measures and shelter-in-place orders, such as New York, California, and Louisiana.

“Our key finding is that the rapid transition to telemedicine went fairly smoothly,” said Uscher-Pines. “Psychiatrists were pleasantly surprised about how well it was going and about patient response.”

Many respondents noted the safety advantages of avoiding in-person contact; some pointed out the benefits of seeing inside a patient’s home.

The shift to telemedicine was made simpler, researchers note, by regulatory and reimbursement changes.


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