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Telemedicine growing as more patients use videoconferencing to see psychiatrists

Tuesday, October 10, 2006 by: Jerome Douglas
Tags: psychiatry, psychiatric medicine, health services

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(NewsTarget) A lack of psychiatry specialists in many remote areas in certain regions of the country is making treatment over video conferencing more and more common.

In a case that speaks to this growing trend in telemedicine, Anthony Presciano said he might not be receiving treatment for his post-traumatic stress disorder if the treatment required that he drive 60 miles through heavy traffic in order to visit his therapist in Dallas. Instead, the Vietnam war veteran makes a rather light 15-mile trip from his north Texas home in Argyle to a suburban clinic in Denton, Texas. In Denton, Anthony is able to "visit" his doctor via video screen.

The efficacy of treatment for mental health issues appears to be the same over video as it would be face-to-face, according to Dr. Umar Latif of the Dallas VA Medical Center. Dr. Latif has been offering psychiatric sessions over video for over a year, and says that once the telemedicine session starts, the patient and doctor are able to do what they need to do regardless of where they are located.

Since specialists are in short supply in certain regions of the country, video medical treatment is increasingly filling in where traditional treatment cannot go. Mental health appointments work especially well over video; they allow therapists to contact and treat many patients who otherwise would not be receiving help because of the length of travel or other physical distance limitations, according to experts.

Although there are no official numbers on the number of psychiatrists and other doctors using telemedicine for patient treatment, American Telemedicine Association spokesman Jonathan Linkous said the practice has been growing each year. At the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, almost one-third of the telemedicine program's 60,000 appointments are performed for mental health reasons and associated treatment.

However, there are certain drawbacks, according to Dr. Myron Weiner, who works at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. Dr. Weiner says that it is hard to assess a patient's mood from a video screen, adding that facial expressions and gestures don't come across well -- and these can be very important for reading non-verbal communication.


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