COVID-19: Dramatic changes to telepsychiatry rules and regs


Phone vs. video

Some patients, especially older ones, may be resistant to the idea of video chats, preferring to talk via telephone instead.

“If you can use video, it’s better to do that if you can, especially when setting up the systems are relatively simple,” Dr. Yellowlees said, adding that it might just be an issue of patients needing help to get started.

However, “for some people, this is a barrier that we have to respect,” Dr. Torous said.

Either way, clinicians should check the American Medical Association’s website for information about coding for both video and phone visits.

Asked whether a clinician needs written consent from patients for conducting telepsychiatry visits, Dr. Yellowlees said it’s important to check state-by-state rules. For example, California allows a verbal consent.

In many cases, “simply jot down a note that consent was given and how” and write down the address where the patient is located at time of visit, such as for their home, he said.

If a patient wants to conduct a telehealth session while in their car, Dr. Yellowlees suggested getting the address of the parking lot. For safety, clinicians also are advised asking for the cell phone number of the patient as well as that of a loved one.

Vital signs

When it comes to checking vital signs, Dr. Yellowlees suggested asking patients to purchase an inexpensive blood pressure (BP) monitor, thermometer, etc, prior to an appointment.

“Ask them to do a BP test on video and show you the readings. For the AIMS [Abnormal Involuntary Movement Scale] test, or to check for tardive dyskinesia, instruct patients to come close to the camera to show movement.”

In addition, most psychiatric rating scales are available online, which patients can fill out before a telehealth visit. The Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Adviser mobile app also includes several of these scales, Dr. Torous noted.

Overall, “there have been dramatic changes in the rules and regulations governing [telepsychiatry] that, for the next 60 days, make it easier to offer telehealth to patients,” Dr. Torous said.

Therefore, all psychiatrists need to “get on board,” as soon as possible, Dr. Yellowlees added.

The webinar was funded in part by a grant from SAMHSA.

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.


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