Telepsychiatry May Be Convenient Alternative for Older Vets in Rural Areas

Old retired woman sitting in front of monitor. She has just sent her blood pressure and pulse information to virtual doctor. At the same time, telemedicine physician is looking at her CT x-ray on the screen
Veterans in rural areas shared their satisfaction with geriatric psychiatry care delivered via video telehealth.

Veterans reported high satisfaction with geriatric psychiatry services offered by video teleconference, according to results of a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Telehealth services were also found to reduce the burden of travel to a primary medical center.

The study cohort comprised community-dwelling veterans aged ≥65 years who were receiving teleconference-based geriatric psychiatry services through the Western Telemental Health Network of Veterans Affairs. Eligible participants had completed ≥2 geriatric telepsychiatry sessions regarding medication management. Geriatric psychiatrists conducted the sessions at Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outreach Clinics in New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. Participants completed a paper-based survey after completing 2 visits. The survey measured the patient’s satisfaction with the telehealth modality, the patient’s ability to communicate with his/her psychiatrist, and the patient’s self-perceived convenience of telehealth.

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Of 45 patients who received telepsychiatry services, 40 completed the survey (88.9% response rate). The mean participant age was 71.46±5.74 years (range, 65-88 years). Primary psychiatric diagnoses included major depressive disorder (20%), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD; 18%), co-occurring major depressive disorder and PTSD (33%), and anxiety disorder (10%), among others. The majority (90%) of survey participants reported liking or even preferring telehealth as a means of receiving psychiatric care. In addition, 83% of patients reported that receiving telehealth services was “the same” as (n=30) or “better” than (n=3) receiving services in person. All participants felt they were able to effectively communicate with their psychiatrist through videoconferencing. Compared with driving to their primary medical center, patients saved a mean 168±59.2 driving miles by attending their appointment by telehealth at their local Veterans Affairs Community-Based Outreach Clinic.

These data suggest that telehealth may be a convenient alternative to in-person psychiatric visits for veterans living in rural areas. Participants were largely satisfied with care administered through the telehealth modality, and the majority endorsed its ease of use. Given the small sample size, however, additional study in a larger cohort is necessary to confirm these results.


Hantke N, Lajoy M, Gould CE, et al. Patient satisfaction with geriatric psychiatry services via video teleconference [published online August 24, 2019]. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2019.08.020