Study data published in Psychiatric Services outline mental health care providers’ perspectives on telepsychiatry during the COVID-19 pandemic. In a survey conducted at 18 mental health centers around the United States, a significant proportion of providers endorsed the use of telepsychiatry, citing flexible scheduling and timely start as advantages. Over half (64%) of survey participants indicated that they planned to continue using telepsychiatry in some capacity after the resolution of the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many health care centers to rapidly shift to a telehealth environment. To assess the impact of this transition on mental health care providers, investigators distributed a survey to clinicians at 18 hospitals and community centers in 11 different states. Participating hospitals were affiliated with the Vanguard Research Group, a research consortium specializing in mental health care.
Providers of all types were invited to complete the survey between April and May of 2020. The survey comprised 12 questions capturing satisfaction with telepsychiatry on a 5-point Likert scale. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize survey results.
The survey was distributed to approximately 2000 mental health care professionals, among whom 819 (41.0%) provided complete responses. Most respondents worked in adult outpatient clinics (56%; n=458) or child and adolescent clinics (18%; n=148).
A range of age groups were captured in the survey, with 39% aged 45 years or older. Surveyed professions included psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, social workers, therapists, and counselors.
The majority of providers who used two-way videoconferencing reported that their experience was “excellent” or “good (73%; n=397). Similarly, 66% of providers who used telephone-based telepsychiatry reported positive experiences. Just 4% and 3% of respondents using videoconferencing or telephone, respectively, indicated that their experience was “poor” or “very poor.”
The most commonly described advantages to telepsychiatry were flexible scheduling or rescheduling (77%; n=633), timely appointment start (69%; n=568), and reduction in no-shows (52%; n=427).
Cited disadvantages included patient difficulties in using the teleconferencing devices (52%, n=422); lack of “closeness” or “connection” with the patient (46%, n=379), and technical problems on the provider end (39%; n=323). Providers in older age strata were more likely to indicate having technical difficulties (P =.022).
A significant proportion of clinicians indicated that they would be open to using telepsychiatry after the resolution of the pandemic. Specifically, 34% answered that they would want to use telepsychiatry in 50% or more of their caseload, 30% in 25% to 50% of their caseload, and 35% in less than 25% of their caseload.
Care providers most often selected anxiety disorders as the “most adequate” diagnoses for telehealth (96%; n=683), while psychotic disorders (67%; n=438) were considered less suited for telehealth.
In the free comments section, many providers emphasized the convenience of telepsychiatry, although they expressed their belief that efforts must be made to accommodate patients without access to teleconferencing technology.
Results from this study indicate highly favorable attitudes for telepsychiatry among mental health care providers. Study limitations include the cross-sectional design and limited cohort size. A longitudinal study in a larger cohort is necessary to further explore perceptions of telehealth.
“Telepsychiatry was very well perceived among mental health care providers, and many would like to continue using it,” the investigators wrote. “[However,] mental health care professionals’ concerns about access to technology, patient and provider training, and technical support need to be addressed if global implementation of telepsychiatry is to succeed.”
Disclosure: Several study authors declared affiliations with the pharmarftg65ceutical industry. Please see the original reference for a full list of authors’ disclosures.
Guinart D, Marcy P, Hauser M, Dwyer M, Kane JM. Mental health care providers’ attitudes toward telepsychiatry: A systemwide, multisite survey during the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatr Serv. Published online February 17, 2021. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.202000441