Telemedicine has been taking the medical field by storm in recent years, introducing patients to a whole new realm of health care, accessible direct from their homes. Since the smartphone revolution, many of our industries have found a new lease of digital life online, and health care was bound to follow sooner or later. Telemedicine is the practice of treating patients through the use of telecommunications; in the past, this referred specifically to telephones, as telemedicine was actually implemented to a primitive degree in the 1960s. These days, however, it refers to any device that can connect people remotely, including smartphones, laptops, and tablets. As well as traditional medicine, which focuses on physical ailments, telemedicine psychiatry has also been introduced as a way to connect patients with their doctors or psychiatrists. The question is: is it as effective?

Before talking about the telemedicine side of things, it’s important to make a distinction between psychiatry and traditional medicine. The latter deals with physical disease, while the former deals with disorders of the mind. These are usually a lot harder to quantify, with nuances that differ on a person-to-person basis. With a physical ailment, the cause and treatment path are more often than not easily identifiable after a few tests. This is not always the case with psychiatric illnesses, which can lie undetected by a patient for many months or years. Even when a psychiatrist gets to grips with a patient’s specific symptoms and disorder, a treatment plan might take a long time and require a trial-and-error approach.

Divan - Mental Health Scrabble

Potential patients are reluctant to go to the doctor, even if they realize they’re suffering from a form of mental disorder.

There is also a stigma attached to psychiatric illnesses that hasn’t gone away. It’s only in the last few decades that mental disorders have been recognized, and taken and treated seriously; they’re most definitely starting on the back foot when it comes to the medical field at large. Potential patients are reluctant to go to the doctor, even if they realize they’re suffering from a form of mental disorder. This leads to huge cases of untreated disorders that are left for the sufferer to deal with alone, or ultimately get worse.

In this way, telemedicine psychiatry is actually extremely effective at breaking down the first barrier for potential mental health patients. It allows patients to touch base with a mental health professional from the comfort of their own home. Visiting a psychiatrist’s office can be daunting and intimidating to first-time patients; they’re entering an entirely new world, where they’re expected to muse on their deepest darkest feelings to complete stranger. Telemedicine psychiatry takes some of the edge off this intimidating initiation. By contacting the doctors from home, it becomes easier to manage and to deal with. This is also one of the overall progressive features of telemedicine as a whole, not just psychiatric telemedicine, and possibly the biggest advantage in the whole initiative.

It’s especially effective with the psychiatric branch of telemedicine, however. While most patients will need to go and speak with their doctor face-to-face at some point in time, at the beginning of the relationship (which is all-important when it comes to psychiatry), telemedicine can serve both doctor and patients extremely well. An added benefit that doctors have claimed to be particularly useful is that telemedicine affords them the chance to see inside their patients’ homes and daily lives a little, which can aid them in getting to grips with the nuances of that specific patient. Not to mention it’s a cheaper and quicker way to communicate for both patients and doctors alike, meaning that doctors can see more people in a day, and patients don’t have to revolve their entire schedules around a trip to their doctor’s office.

Divan - Doctor's Laptop

Telemedicine psychiatry is extremely effective at breaking down the first barrier for potential mental health patients.

Another primary use of telemedicine for both the traditional and psychiatric is that patients in remote areas can easily access care. This was one of the main reasons for telemedicine’s introduction back in the sixties, and one that remains important to this day. With the aid of digital technology, we can build on its original use and adapt to 2018, as patients are no longer limited to the nearest available specialist or psychiatrist. They can search all over the country for a doctor that meets their criteria and suits their needs, making the use of telemedicine progressive in both different fields. Patients are no longer limited by space in receiving the support they require, be it mental, physical, or both. They can even order certain types of medicine over the internet; medical marijuana has been proven to have a positive effect on both physical and mental ailments. Through sites like MMJ Recs, patients can order their medicine from the comfort of their living room.

Telemedicine is undoubtedly progressive on both fronts, but telemedicine psychiatry appears to come across as a little less progressive than its clinical counterpart, as patients requiring psychiatric care are often seen as longer-term projects than physical ailments. This is, in fact, not the case; psychiatric telemedicine is equally as progressive as regular telemedicine, and looks set to continue that trend long into the future.