The Psychiatrist Can See Your Child Now, Virtually

teletherapy 362With a growing shortage of mental-health professionals for children and adolescents, more health-care providers are turning to technology.

With a rising number of teens and adolescents suffering from depression and anxiety, and too few professionals to help, remote video consults are helping pediatricians fill the gap in some communities. In recent years, more health providers have been turning to telemedicine for adult mental-health services, offering remote, real-time video and audio appointments with a psychiatrist or counselor for patients who don’t have easy access to care. School systems, universities and health-care providers are now testing out such programs for children and teens.

Some studies show that so-called telepsychiatry is as effective as care delivered in person—and may even be superior to in-person sessions for children with such issues as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Parents, teens and family practitioners report high satisfaction with remote consults and appreciate their convenience and privacy. Remote psychotherapy, behavioral training and prescription-drug therapy can be offered through doctors’ offices, schools, correctional facilities and homes.

When Sarah Ford, 14 years old, was struggling with depression, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts last spring, her pediatrician in Springfield, Mo., was able to call in help from afar. Through a live videoconference link with Mercy Virtual, a telemedicine center three hours away, a child-psychiatry expert evaluated Sarah, prescribed a medication and set follow-up appointments.

“Telemedicine is great at bridging distances, but it doesn’t make up for the shortage of child psychiatrists,”  says Kyle John, a Mercy pediatric psychiatrist who leads and helped create the virtual program at Mercy known as vMentalWellness Kids. By working in a collaborative model with pediatricians who know their patients best, “We can say ‘you do the groundwork, we will review everything and help you when you get stuck.’”

State laws regulating the delivery of medical care via videoconferencing vary widely. Insurance coverage for so-called telepsychiatry also varies by state and by payer, and private insurers don’t always reimburse telepsychiatry on a par with in-person care.

“Telepsychiatry is an amazing tool for treating a child at the right time, in the right manner, right where they are,” says Ujjwal Ramtekkar, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Pediatricians may get relatively little training in mental health, Dr. Ramtekkar says, and virtual programs allow them to collaborate closely with child psychiatrists.

In more complicated or emergency situations, the pediatrician can ask an expert to see the patient immediately using a secure video connection. For patients who require longer-term counseling, Mercy also helps families find behavioral therapists as close as possible to their homes, and partners with school therapy programs.

Excerpted from “The Psychiatrist Can See Your Child Now, Virtually” in The Wall Street Journal online.

Source: The Wall Street Journal | The Psychiatrist Can See Your Child Now, Virtually, | Copyright ©2019 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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