Telepsychiatry grows as COVID-19 restrictions prevent in-person appointments
Psychiatrists at the University of Rochester Medical Center are now holding 85% to 90% of their appointments remotely, through phone calls or video chats, Dr. Yeates Conwell said Tuesday.
Conwell, the director of the medical center’s Office for Aging Research and Health Services, said telepsychiatry was largely off-limits before the pandemic, barred in many situations by state and federal guidelines.
Now, those authorities have embraced remote connection with psychiatrists as a way to provide mental health support during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Maybe that’s one of the silver linings, in a way, of this crisis,” Conwell said. “It’s really propelled us forward in delivering more and more services remotely.”
In-person appointments are important for some people, he said, but for many people, “being able to actually see the provider in your own home is a very special and meaningful experience.”
Conwell said he hoped state and federal regulators would continue to allow remote appointments after the pandemic.
“It’s really been a very positive kind of change that we’re hoping is going to be sustained over the long haul,” he said.
In some cases, however, people’s circumstances do not accommodate telepsychiatry services.
Some people are isolated at home with small children they need to care for. Some lack access to reliable internet service or smartphones.
And in some cases, therapists benefit from being in the room with their clients.
“Sometimes, you can get a sense when you’re meeting with somebody in person,” said Caroline Silva, a senior instructor in URMC’s psychiatry department.
A patient’s behavior might reveal thoughts or feelings that contradict their words, she said.
Still, Silva said, she, too, would like to see telepsychiatry expand further.
URMC is exploring grants to fund greater access to connectivity and equipment for people who lack them currently, she said.