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Telepsychiatry: the New Frontier in Mental Health

January 16, 2015 | Telepresence Options

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Story and images by Kristine Crane / U.S. News

How technology is helping 'bring' psychiatrists to people in underserved areas.

When Hind Benjelloun, a District of Columbia-based crisis psychiatrist with InSight Telepsychiatry, works an overnight shift, there's never a dull moment. Even when the emergency room empties out, Benjelloun still has patients waiting for her on her computer screen. Whether they're from the inner city or rural Virginia, they have to be seen remotely, and advances in technology have made it possible for them to get the help they need at all hours of the day.

Like telemedicine, telepsychiatry relies on technology to bring clinical medicine to patients, rather than the other way around. Patients typically videoconference with doctors using computers or videoconferencing equipment. Telepsychiatric services are growing, and the advantage is that such technology opens access to care, particularly for those in remote areas where there are fewer psychiatrists.

The disadvantage, Benjelloun says, is that the human touch is missing. "A caring touch or handing a patient a tissue can never be possible," she says, adding that this can also lead to missed cues on her part. "I am unable to clearly see self-inflicted wounds or tears."

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