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Due to ongoing issues with mental healthcare service accessibility and availability, rural farming communities are in a state of emergency. The significant distance between a rural family farm and a mental health treatment center is a major barrier to timely access to care. In addition, there is a nationwide lack of psychiatrists, which is more pronounced in rural areas. However, with the rise of telemedicine, it has become possible to provide timely and early access to mental healthcare via a telepsychiatry platform.
Telepsychiatry Trial in Rural Areas
According to a five-year study published in JAMA Psychiatry on August 25, telepsychiatry in rural and federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) was successful for bipolar disorder or PTSD patients. The trial was known as The Study to Promote Innovation in Rural Integrated Telepsychiatry (SPIRIT). Its goal was to determine the best way to deliver telemental health services and mental healthcare to rural primary care clinics.
A total of 1,004 people were enrolled from 24 federally designated health clinics across Washington, Arkansas, and Michigan for this trial. The trial compared two interactive video approaches for integrating remote specialty mental health services in clinics. It consisted of tele-referral services where one-on-one consultations with a licensed clinical psychologist were available and telecollaborative services, where a telepsychiatrist and care manager supported visits with a primary care provider.
The trial results were quite impressive. The patients in both groups reported a significant increase in perceived access to care and reductions in mental health symptoms and pharmaceutical side effects. This study has also shown that in the COVID-19 pandemic, physicians and patients had the opportunity to explore virtual care and witness the benefits for themselves, opening the path for telepsychiatry to become more widely adopted.
Advantages of Telepsychiatry as a Mental Healthcare Services
According to a report in BMC Psychiatry, only one-third of people with bipolar disorder and PTSD receive special mental healthcare services in a year, and only about 10% of patients with these disorders receive adequate care in primary care settings. There’s a crisis in rural areas, but telemedicine connects a professional directly with a patient much faster and more efficiently; there is now the possibility of reducing the waiting time. Telepsychiatry also allows a psychiatrist and a therapist to collaborate on a treatment plan for an individual, which is especially beneficial for behavioral health patients, including addictions.
The report also states that telepsychiatry can fill in mental health care delivery gaps due to hospital closures. One out of every four rural hospitals is in danger of collapsing, resulting in the closure of 673 institutions in an area where mental health services are already scarce. Thus, people need telepsychiatry in rural areas.
Challenges in Telepsychiatry for Mental Healthcare in Rural Areas
While depression and isolation affect all farmers, the special demands of maintaining a farm put farmers under additional pressure and stress. Farmers rely heavily on things outside their control, such as weather, agricultural prices, and policy. If adverse outcomes arise, their mental health is affected. Due to the constraints of traditional health care approaches, farm laborers cannot always promptly respond to their mental health needs. Telepsychiatry has demonstrated its efficiency as a platform in rural areas to gain access and achieve favorable health results.
There are currently some regulatory issues that need attention as well. One of these is clinician licensing, which is time-consuming and costly and is state-specific. The Ryan Haight Act, which was enacted to regulate online internet prescriptions, adds another layer of difficulty to providing care by requiring a practitioner to conduct an in-person medical evaluation before prescribing a scheduled medication.
Despite the challenges, telepsychiatry has efficiently improved the delivery of care to rural sectors. It is expected that more people will speak up, ask for assistance, and become less judged for seeking help for mental health issues.
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