For Some Rural Teens, Psychiatric Help Is Now Just a TV Screen Away
Many U.S. states are facing a severe shortage of psychiatrists, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). Psychiatrists and mental health advocates say America today needs more than 30,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists, and has only 8,300—and the need appears to keep rising.
Advocates have long scrambled for solutions to the problem: increase funding for clinics; expand loan-forgiveness programs so medical students might be encouraged to go into child psychiatry; increase the number of psychiatric beds in hospitals; and expand telehealth.
As technology has become cheaper and more reliable, telepsychiatry has emerged as a practical approach to reaching more young people. But it’s not without its detractors. Some advocates disagree on whether [telepsychiatry] appointments are as effective as those carried out in-person. Others see telehealth as just one promising piece of what must be a larger, more comprehensive solution.
Children today are used to interacting with technology, says Dr. Michael Sorter, director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s, and computers and smartphones are where they maintain relationships with friends. Because of that, it might not be so unusual for them to see a doctor the same way. Another evolving model for teletherapy is where psychiatrists don’t directly treat patients, but rather provide support for pediatricians and others caring for children who do not have expertise in mental illnesses.
Despite any potential downsides of teleappointments, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics all acknowledge its prominence and offer resources for patients and providers on how to practice it, while the HRSA’s Office for the Advancement of Telehealth provides federal grant money for programs that support telehealth in rural areas.