As clinics and hospitals ask patients to stay home to limit exposure to the coronavirus, more mental health providers are turning to telehealth to close gaps between providers and their patients.
“During this COVID-19 situation, where the recommendations have been to stay at home or shelter in place, with tele-psychiatry it’s just blossomed,” said Dr. Chris Pelic, the medical director for tele-psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. “We’re able to expand our coverage to take care of patients in their own homes and not put them or healthcare professionals at risk by bringing them to a clinic or hospital for appointments.”
Tele-psychiatry is the use of technology to connect patients and mental health providers. Think of Zoom or FaceTime with a psychiatrist.
Last month, the federal government relaxed some regulations on telehealth to give providers ability to reach more patients from home. Dr. Pelic says MUSC’s psychiatry team has committed to using tele-psychiatry more than ever.
“We’ve sort of universally, in our department, taken all of our outpatient programming and converted them to telehealth,” said Dr. Pelic. “And in doing so, we’ve expanded the number of people doing telehealth, we’ve locations where telehealth is being done.”
Dr. Pelic added that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on how mental health care is delivered.
“I do believe that this will change the landscape for tele-mental health, telehealth, probably forever,” he said. “Given the way this whole thing unfolded with COVID-19, it’s shown that we as a medical system have to have flexibility in how we deliver resources.”
Increasing access to mental health service is especially important now. At a recent press conference, South Carolina Department of Mental Health’s Jennifer Butler said the stress of the pandemic could make mental health symptoms worse, or bring on symptoms for the first time.
“It’s important that we not lose sight of each other even though we may be physically further apart,” Butler said. “As we stay at home to save lives, we still need to stay connected. If you are feeling suicidal we urge you to call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.”