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Patients turn to telepsychiatry in midst of doctor shortage

Posted at 7:37 AM, Feb 01, 2019

Telepsychiatry is a growing trend connecting patients and doctors online as a way to make up for the shortage of psychiatrists nationwide.

Dr. Ronald Rubin said the concept is even helping take away the stigma of seeing a psychiatrist.

"In the past people had thought you'd have to be crazy to see a psychiatrist, things like that and I think this demystifies it some," said Dr. Rubin.

Dr. Rubin is a psychiatrist for American TelePsychiatry, a Wisconsin-based company connecting doctors and patients all over the country. Dr. Rubin's office is in West Allis.

"We're working out of our homes more. We have more home officers than ever," said Dr. Rubin.

He said it's possible for him to talk with a patient from the comfort of their couch, but most visit one of six Wisconsin clinics. Here someone helps connect patients and psychiatrists online.

"They're watching me on a 40 inch screen," said Dr. Rubin.

Rubin said seeing patients online saves a ton of time. He meets with five to 10 more patients a day this way.

"I can go right from one to the next seamlessly," he said.

In 2016, the company booked 13,923 telepsychiatry appointments. That went up to 15,436 in 2017 and rose to 20,912 last year.

Telepsychiatry saves times for patients because they aren't traveling as far. Rubin said he used to have patients driving three hours to see him.

"Especially when you talk about cities like Kenosha and Racine, that's not that far, but it saves them more than an hour round trip," said Rubin.

Another entity taking advantage of this practice is hospitals. Dr. Vani Ray is a psychiatrist with Aurora Behavioral Health. Her office is at St. Luke's on Milwaukee's South Side, but she communicates with patients throughout Wisconsin.

"Originally we used to get like one or two consults every week. Now we get like four or five consults a day from different places," said Dr. Ray.

It's become so popular Aurora now has 14 hospitals participating in telepsychiatry across the state.

Dr. Ray admits telepsychiatry doesn't replace in-person visits.

"You cannot parallel talking through camera to somebody holding your hands sitting by them and talking to them," said Ray.

It can take months for patients to get an in-person appointment with a psych and that's when telepsychiatry is most beneficial.

"Within an hour they ask you to see a psychiatrist they get to see a psychiatrist, which is unparallel in the given time we are three to four months wait time to see a psychiatrist," said Ray.

No matter how you feel about this trend, Ray admits an online consult is better than nothing.

Both the hospital system and American Telepsychiatry use an encrypted software to interact with patients so their privacy isn't jeopardized.