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Q&A: The Growing Role of Telepsychiatry in Mental Health Care

January 15, 2019

Edward Kaftarian, MD, is a self-described telehealth evangelist. Providing psychiatric care remotely has allowed him to reach out to patients in underserved areas, witness intimate therapeutic breakthroughs despite great geographical distance, and even enjoy a high level of professional camaraderie with onsite staff. The chief executive officer of Orbit Health Telepsychiatry, Encino, California, Dr. Kaftarian will share his zeal for telepsychiatry with attendees at the upcoming Elevate by Psych Congress meeting in Boston, Massachusetts, March 8-10, 2019.

Here, Dr. Kaftarian explains why he believes all mental health providers should get in on the telepsychiatry wave.

Q:         What inspired you to present on telepsychiatry? 

A:         I have enjoyed great success in using telepsychiatry to provide access to care for patients who would have otherwise gone without treatment. It is imperative we embrace the opportunity we have during this watershed moment in mental health history.

Q:         How is the subject relevant to the Elevate audience? 

A:         Telepsychiatry is a crucial and inevitable part of the future of mental health. It is essential that psychiatrists gain experience in this field so that they are not left behind by a fast-evolving health care industry. No topic in health care is more important or relevant. 

Q:         What is the current role of telepsychiatry in the mental health field?

A:         Telepsychiatry has assumed a broad role in the delivery of mental health treatment. It is becoming the preferred choice for doctors and administrators. Telepsychiatry has become acceptable for a wide variety of patients at all levels of care. Gone are the days when telepsychiatry was a small part of the supporting cast. We are now the main event!

See the full Elevate by Psych Congress agenda

Q:         How long have you been providing telepsychiatry?

A:         I have been providing telepsychiatry for over a decade. I am an early adopter of the technology. As a telehealth evangelist, I am pushing for telehealth to deeply penetrate all health care systems. It would be a sin to not use every tool at our disposal to deliver life-saving treatment to millions of people in need. 

Q:         What about telepsychiatry has surprised you the most? 

A:         I am pleasantly surprised with how much psychiatrists enjoy the work. The comfort and joy of working from home makes the workday seem easier and more fun. I am also regularly surprised by the depth of connection a telepsychiatrist can make with patients. Countless times, my patients had cathartic therapy breakthroughs while on camera. The tear-jerking moments remind me why I went into the field of psychiatry. 

Moreover, I am surprised that working remotely does not give me a sense of isolation. Quite the contrary—telepsychiatrists have dynamic interactions with onsite staff. I feel like I am part of a high functioning interdisciplinary treatment team.

Q:         What practice areas is telepsychiatry well suited for? Is there any situation in which telehealth would not be a good fit?  

A:         Telepsychiatry is a perfect match for jails and prisons. While most psychiatrists are inspired by the rewarding work of helping inmates, they do not enjoy the dingy and dirty correctional environment. Working from home provides a great deal of safety, security, and comfort. You get to have your cake and eat it too! 

Q:         What do you hope attendees will take away from your session

A:         I would like attendees to challenge any preconceived notions or stereotypes they may have about telehealth. The truth is that telehealth has very few limitations. The sky is the limit!

Q:         Any final thoughts you’d like to share with readers?

A:         Telepsychiatry is addicting. Once you get a taste of what it's like to work from home, you will never want to go back to a conventional psychiatry job! 

— Jolynn Tumolo

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