COVID-19: A guide to making telepsychiatry work


“There are so many more options for making virtual therapy as interactive as face-to-face therapy,” said Dr. Nguyen Williams, who also is an associate clinical professor at the university. “This is the key to getting and keeping the patient engaged in telepsychiatry.”

Despite the many positive aspects of using telepsychiatry as a treatment tool, some negative factors must be considered. “You lose some of the nuances, subtleties in terms of expression, movement, smell, etc.,” said Dr. McLean. “Also, there are rare instances where a part of a physical examination would be appropriate, which also is precluded.”

Videoconferencing software might allow the clinician to zoom in to take a closer look at a patient to look for subtle movements and tremors, Dr. McLean said. And, he added, he has asked nursing staff to check for particular signs and symptoms during visits and to describe them to him. “Still,” Dr. McLean said, “this does not take the place of being there.”

Dr. Shore suggested several other practical considerations. For example, while on a screen, keep the home environment as professional as the office would be, he said. Be clear with family members about the importance of not interrupting and make sure that privacy is maintained. The message should be: “I’m working from home, and I’m not available during these hours,” Dr. Shore said. “You need to be aware that, during this time, I need this for clinical work.”

Dr. Shore reported serving as chief medical officer of AccessCare Services, and receiving royalties from American Psychiatric Association Publishing and Springer. He also is coauthor with Peter Yellowlees, MD, of “Telepsychiatry and Health Technologies: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals” (Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association Publishing, 2018). Dr. Khan and Dr. McLean reported no relevant disclosures. Dr. Bristow reported relationships with MCG Health and Insight + Regroup Telehealth.

For more details about using telepsychiatry in the time of COVID-19, listen to the April 8 Psychcast Masterclass lecture by Dr. Shore.


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