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Telepsychiatry: The Basics

What is telepsychiatry?
Telepsychiatry is the practice of psychiatry using technology to connect a patient and mental health provider who are not in the same physical location. In its infancy, telepsychiatry required expensive video conferencing equipment, making start-up costs prohibitive for many clinics. Now, any device with a video camera and access to the internet can be used for telepsychiatry.

How can telepsychiatry benefit a hospital or mental health clinic?
For hospitals or clinics most impacted by psychiatrist shortages, telepsychiatry can be a great supplement to their staff. Telepsychiatrists must be licensed in the state where the patient is located, but they can be physically located anywhere in the country or even the world. This flexibility broadens hospitals' and clinics' recruiting options significantly, especially for facilities located in rural venues.

Is telepsychiatry as effective as face to face psychiatry?
Studies have been conducted that have shown no significant difference between in-person and telepsychiatry in outcomes and patient satisfaction. 

Is telepsychiatry HIPAA compliant?
In order to be HIPAA compliant, the telepsychiatry session must be conducted over an encrypted connection. This requirement may rule out some free video chat services.

Can I bill Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance for telepsychiatry sessions?
Medicare and Medicaid reimburse for telepsychiatry services. Currently, 20states mandate that telemedicine must be covered by commercial insurers when providing services that would normally be covered if they were performed in person. They are Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Vermont and Virginia.

How can I get started using telepsychiatry?
There are several telemedicine technology providers available in the United States. Going through one of them can help you ensure that you are HIPAA compliant.