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APA, others lobby to make COVID-19 telehealth waivers permanent


 

Increased access to care

Telepsychiatry seems to be convincing some to reconsider therapy, since they can do it at home, said Dr. Yellowlees. The technology is a way of “enlarging the tent for us as a profession and providing more care,” he said.

For instance, he said, he has been able to consult by phone and video with several patients who receive care through the Indian Health Service who had not be able to get into the physical clinic.

Dr. Yellowlees said video sessions also may encourage patients to be more, not less, talkative. “Video is actually counterintuitively a very intimate experience,” he said, in part because of the perceived distance and people’s tendency to be less inhibited on technology platforms.“It’s less embarrassing,” he said. “If you’ve got really dramatic, difficult, traumatic things to talk about, it’s slightly easier to talk to someone who’s slightly further apart from you on video,” said Dr. Yellowlees.

“Individuals who have a significant amount of anxiety may actually feel more comfortable with the distance that this technology affords,” agreed Dr. Khan. She said telemedicine had made sessions more comfortable for some of her patients with autism spectrum disorder.

Dr. Geller said audio and video have been important to his practice during the pandemic. One of his patients never leaves the house and does not use computers. “He spends his time sequestered at home listening to records on his record player,” said Dr. Geller. But he’s been amenable to phone sessions. “What I’ve found with him, and I’ve found with several other patients, is that they actually talk more easily when they’re not face to face,” he said.

Far fewer no-shows

Another plus for his New England–based practice during the last few months: patients have not been anxious about missing sessions because of the weather. The clinicians all noted that telepsychiatry seemed to reduce missed visits.

Dr. Yellowlees said that no-show rates had decreased by half at UC Davis. “That means no significant loss of income,” during the pandemic, he said.

“The no-show rate is incredibly low, particularly because when you call the patients and they don’t remember they had an appointment, you have the appointment anyway, most of the time,” said Dr. Geller.

For Dr. Khan, being able to conduct audio and video sessions during the pandemic has meant keeping up continuity of care.

As a result of the pandemic, many college students in New York City had to go home – often to another state. The waivers granted by New York’s Medicaid program and other insurers have allowed Dr. Khan to continue care for these patients.

The NYU clinic also operates day programs in rural areas 5 hours from the city. Dr. Khan recently evaluated a 12-year-old girl with significant anxiety and low mood, both of which had worsened.

“She would not have been able to access care otherwise,” said Dr. Khan. And for rural patients who do not have access to broadband or smartphones, audio visits “have been immensely helpful,” she said.

Dr. Khan, Dr. Geller, and Dr. Yellowlees have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

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

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