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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 mental health professional?
There are many patient care and lifestyle advantages to telepsychiatry. With telepsychiatry, you can practice from any location, including outside of the country. The only requirement is that you must be licensed in the state where the patient is located, but you can be physically located anywhere in the country or even the world. Being able to stay in touch with patients who are physically remote from you, for instance in a prison system, allows for better continuity of care. If you're a snowbird and spend part of the year in another state, you can still see your patients back home. If you practice at multiple clinics in one metropolitan area, telepsychiatry can help reduce your commuting time and maximize your time with patients.

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, 20 states and D.C. 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.