It’s often difficult for folks who live in rural areas to get access to a psychiatrist. But now, the psychiatrist is coming to them, in a way. The University of Washington program is set up in a collaborative care system that includes a primary care doctor and a counselor in rural areas, and a psychiatrist who checks in by webcam.
Anna Ratzliff, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington School of Medicine, is in her weekly consultation with behavioral healthcare manager Wayne Pollard. Wayne works at a clinic in Dayton, 300 miles away. There’s no psychiatrist there, but now, residents can get help from a team at the University of Washington.
“There’s a building interest for folks to be able to have the experts there at U dub take a look at their cases and take a look at their symptoms and try and come up with a medication regimen that’s going to help them feel better in the end,” explained Pollard.
Dr. Ratzliff says telepsychiatry gets advanced mental healthcare to people in remote areas.
“When we use telepsychiatry, we can get out to those small places like Dayton and help impact the healthcare for those 4,000 people that before telepsychiatry didn’t really have access to a psychiatrist at all,” explains Dr. Ratzliff.
It’s part of a collaborative care model. The psychiatrist makes recommendations to the healthcare worker, who passes the information on to the local doctor, who sees the patient at their clinic.
“Clinics that are implementing collaborative care typically are twice as effective at treating their patients to actually getting patients to respond to treatment,” continued Dr. Ratzliff.
Ian Bennett, MD, PhD, Professor, Family Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, treats a lot of pregnant women and new moms with depression. He says a telepsychiatrist makes his work as a physician easier.
“Linking those all together means that the patient walks out and has an experience with a health system that’s much more satisfying and effective. They are more functional at the end of the day,” stated Dr. Bennett.
“I feel blessed. The clinic feels blessed, and I know the patients are going to benefit here in the end,” Pollard shared.
University of Washington’s telepsychiatry team reviews seven to ten cases an hour, most of them being depression or anxiety. The telepsychiatry program has served 50,000 in 100 clinics in the last ten years. Most states are doing some of this work and it is now paid for by medicare.