Some experts in Illinois want to bring mental health care providers to remote areas of the state lacking such services through telepsychiatry, which uses video conferencing to connect psychiatrists with patients.
Telepsychiatry has been in use in Illinois and other parts of the country, but there is legislation on the governor’s desk that would authorize Medicaid to pay for such treatment, said Mark Heyrman of Mental Health America of Illinois, a nonprofit organization that promotes mental health and works to prevent mental illness and improve care and treatment of mental and emotional disorders. Heyrman is a clinical professor of law at the University of Chicago Law School who serves on the organization's board of directors.
Heyrman said telepsychiatry has already been shown to be effective.
“It works better than psychiatry in person, believe it or not,” Heyrman said. “There are some people who feel more comfortable opening up if the person they're talking to isn’t actually in the room.”
Heyrman said telepsychiatry can help address the shortage of mental health care services in rural areas.
“We have a general shortage of psychiatrists across the United States, but particularly in a place where you can't access the psychiatrist, it can be really helpful to be able to do one remotely,” Heyrman said.
For young people, he said telepsychiatry could be appealing because many of them are already comfortable using video conferencing technology, such as FaceTime.
Heyrman said those who aren’t familiar with the technology can go to a health care provider who can help connect them with a psychiatrist remotely.
“I think it's going to only grow, even if we if we solve our shortage of psychiatrists,” Heyrman said. “People feel more comfortable staying at home. Particularly if they have serious symptoms, they may be reluctant to leave their home.”
Heyrman said telepsychiatry is mostly available by going to a health care provider who has the appropriate technology and secure connection so people feel comfortable that the conversation is confidential.
“These days, everyone worries, understandably, about their privacy, so you need to make sure that whatever is being used is protected so that it can’t be hijacked by someone,” Heyrman said.
Heyrman said that mental health services have been underfunded and that telepsychiatry is a more cost-effective method.