An online psychiatrist is a psychiatrist who provides psychiatric services over the internet.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental health conditions.
This article outlines some reasons a person may want to seek online psychiatric services, and it lists some of the potential benefits of doing so. It also provides information on the costs of online psychiatry and how to choose a suitable service.
Psychologists and psychiatrists treat mental health conditions. Psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who have the authority to prescribe medications. In certain states, psychologists can also prescribe medications.
It is worth noting that, in 24 states and the District of Columbia, psychiatric nurse practitioners are also licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions by prescribing medications without physician supervision. The rest offer limited access for nurse practitioners.
An online psychiatrist, or telepsychiatrist, is a medical professional who provides psychiatric services over the internet.
Types of telepsychiatry
There are two types of telepsychiatry: asynchronous and synchronous.
Synchronous telepsychiatry involves the person and the psychiatrist being present at the same time, in real-time interaction.
Asynchronous telepsychiatry involves transmitting clinical information to a psychiatrist through online communication systems. This information may be in the form of emails or recorded videos. It may come from the person seeking treatment or from their primary healthcare professional.
People may seek psychiatric services for several reasons.
For example, some may see a psychiatrist in order to obtain a treatment plan for a mental health condition, such as:
A person should consider seeing a psychiatrist if they experience symptoms that suggest they may need to address a mental health concern.
People may seek psychiatric services to receive help for any of the following:
- difficulty adjusting to major life changes
- constant worry
- severe or chronic stress
- constant negative thoughts
- a low mood that does not seem to improve
- obsessive thinking
- addiction or addictive behaviors
- suicidal thoughts
- self-harming behaviors
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 800-273-8255.
There are several reasons a person may consider seeing an online psychiatrist instead of visiting one in person. According to the American Psychiatric Association, telepsychiatry can provide the following benefits:
- reducing potential delays in care
- providing more convenient appointment times, which can reduce the need for time off work
- allowing for better care continuity and consistent follow-up appointments
- improving access to psychiatric care for people without transportation and those in rural areas
The sections below will outline some potential benefits of having an online consultation and online follow-up appointments with a telepsychiatrist.
According to one
Some people who seek psychiatric services are unable to travel or live in rural areas with poor access to psychiatrists. Telepsychiatry allows these people to receive psychiatric services that may otherwise be unavailable to them.
A 2015 review suggests that telepsychiatry appears generally effective across a wide range of age groups, including children, adolescents, and older adults.
A 2018 study found that children who underwent online psychiatry sessions had shorter emergency department stays than those who traveled by ambulance for in-person psychiatric services.
Another 2015 review also suggests that telepsychiatry is particularly useful for the following conditions:
According to the telepsychiatry provider Insight, a telepsychiatrist is only able to prescribe medication if a patient-provider relationship (PPR) exists. In order for there to be a PPR, the psychiatrist will need to examine the person in a way that is equivalent to an in-person examination.
However, each state has its own regulations regarding whether or not telepsychiatrists are able to prescribe medications.
For example, some states say that a PPR may exist even if the person seeking treatment has not met the psychiatrist in person. Other states say that the telepsychiatrist must have performed a physical examination in person before being able to provide a prescription.
The cost of telepsychiatry can vary depending on a number of factors, including:
- how many years of experience the psychiatrist has
- whether or not the psychiatrist has any extra qualifications
- whether the person is seeking an initial consultation or a follow-up appointment
- the online platform over which the communication takes place
Another consideration, according to a 2017 review of asynchronous vs other forms found that asynchronous visits cost less than ones where the person saw the psychiatrist directly.
A person will need to check that their insurance provider will cover any sessions they have with a telepsychiatrist.
People considering telepsychiatry may find it useful to discuss the matter with their primary healthcare professional. They may be able to suggest suitable online services.
Some other things a person may wish to consider when choosing a telepsychiatrist include:
- whether or not the psychiatrist is a licensed professional
- how many years of experience the psychiatrist has
- if the psychiatrist has had any disciplinary actions
- the psychiatrist’s education and whether or not they specialize in any particular mental health conditions
It should be possible to find all the above information from an online search. However, a person can also email or call the psychiatrist to find out more.
People seeking online psychiatric services should always check to see if their insurance policy will cover the cost of the service prior to receiving the service.
Not all online psychiatry services offer the same benefits, costs, and general services. When selecting a therapist, it is important for a person to find a good match for them.
The following sections offer answers to some of the top questions a person may have regarding online psychiatry.
How can I find free psychiatry online?
People interested who want to talk with an online psychiatrist for free should check with their insurance or Medicare plans. Each offers different options and may offer the services for free or a standard copay. In some areas, government assistance may be able to help.
How to find online psychiatrists that take insurance?
One of the best resources for checking insurance coverage is for a person to speak directly to their insurance provider or agent. In some cases, human resource (HR) directors may be able to assist a person on an employment plan. People on Medicare should check what services their plan covers.
How to find an online psychiatrist near me?
One of the benefits of online psychiatrists is that a person can access offices that are otherwise far away. However, a person should make sure that the practice they are interested in offers services in their state. Contacting a company directly can help answer specific questions about their coverage area.
Can a virtual psychiatrist prescribe medication?
A virtual psychiatrist may be able to prescribe some medications, but they cannot prescribe controlled substances. The Ryan Haight Act prevents any doctor from prescribing controlled substances without in-person visits. However, some states may allow a telepsychiatrist to prescribe certain stimulants.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is able to diagnose, treat, and prescribe medication for mental health conditions.
There are many potential benefits of having online psychiatric consultations as opposed to in-person sessions. For example, research suggests that online psychiatry is a cost-effective, feasible, and effective option for people seeking mental health support.
Whether or not an online psychiatrist is able to prescribe medication depends on state laws and regulations relating to PPRs.
A person can ask their primary doctor for more information and advice about online psychiatry before deciding whether or not it is a suitable option for them.