Could the era of Internet technologies and consumer electronics boost access to mental health care? Dr. Phil McGraw and numerous other exhibitors at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) believe so.
At the CES Digital Health Summit, television talk-show host and Doctor on Demand cofounder McGraw presented his vision of how wireless and communications technology will boost wellness and mental health. McGraw highlighted how telemedicine must play a greater role in providing mental health care, or “tele-mental” health.
“It’s hard to make that first appointment—and it’s harder to keep it,” said McGraw. “There is still a stigma when it comes to mental health. Telemedicine allows people to go past the initial hurdle.”
The rise of camera-equipped smartphones, wearable devices, fitness trackers, and smart watches has attracted the attention of academic researchers in psychiatry and commercial health technology companies. Even nonprofit organizations, such as CareMessage and Medic Mobile, provide remote depression, anxiety, and medication management programs.
Telemedicine has grown in use in dermatology, radiology, critical care, and other medical specialties, taking advantage of increasing Internet bandwidth, speed, and availability. Psychiatry is joining other medical specialties, particularly with smartphones’ ability to provide clear video and audio.
Doctor on Demand has a network of more than 300 psychologists who provide video therapy. The company also has a network of independently contracted physicians who are able to prescribe medications but not narcotics or pain medications.
It isn’t just clinicians who are interested in this idea. The website FierceHealthIT reported in early January on how telemedicine and the patient-monitoring market could grow by about $5 billion by 2020, underscoring commercial interest and venture-capital funding in the industry.
With depression, anxiety, and other comorbid psychiatric disorders taking a toll on physical health, health care providers and companies are realizing that physical health is not enough. Mental health plays a key role as well, and telemedicine can play crucial roles in integrated care consultation models and providing tele-mental health services for the unreachable.
According to Peter Yellowlees, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and director of the Health Informatics Program at the University of California, Davis, and a board member of the American Telemedicine Association, patients with social phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety benefit greatly from telemedicine.
Satisfaction with telemedicine is frequently better than with in-person services, said Yellowlees of his research and clinical experience with telemedicine. “Children prefer this, along with anxious patients, paranoid patients, and people who hate driving.”