Telepsychiatry Helps Address Mental Health Worker Shortage

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The shortage of mental health workers in the U.S. has led many patients seeking treatment to rely on telepsychiatry, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"Telepsychiatry will rapidly become the fastest-expanding segment within psychiatry as a whole," Avrim Fishkind -- president and chief medical officer of JSA Health, a firm specializing in telepsychiatric evaluations -- said, adding, "Psychiatrists cannot possibly cover the 4,700 medical emergency rooms, inpatient units and intensive care units in the United States."

Christopher Thomas, a child psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, said with the proper video equipment, telepsychiatry is "not really different from seeing patients face to face. And it helps reduce barriers and improves access to care."

Texas

Texas is considered a nationwide leader in telemedicine and telepsychiatry, the Chronicle reports.

The growth of telepsychiatry in the state is related, in part, to the shortage of mental health workers.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 184 of Texas' 254 counties have an inadequate number of mental health counselors. Meanwhile, a report by the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health found that of the country's five most populous states, Texas has the fewest number of psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers per 100,000 residents.

To address a shortage of child psychiatrists in El Paso, University of Texas Medical Branch child psychiatrists use telemedicine to oversee the treatment of children at an El Paso clinic by psychiatrists who normally treat adults.

UTMB also provides telepsychiatry services to school districts and some women's shelters in East Texas.

Meanwhile, the West Texas Centers for Mental Health and Mental Retardation lacks adequate staff for 24-hour care, so it contracted with JSA Health to conduct emergency telepsychiatric evaluations at any time.

Telepsychiatry is widely used to treat the 170,000 inmates in Texas prisons and jails. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice contracts with UTMB and Texas Tech University's Health Science Center to provide and oversee health care at state prison facilities (Murphy, Houston Chronicle, 9/10).


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