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 26 states, psychiatric nurse practitioners are also licensed to assess, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions by prescribing medications without physician supervision.
An online psychiatrist, or telepsychiatrist, is a psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner 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 a 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 video. It may come from the person seeking treatment or from their primary healthcare provider.
People may seek psychiatric services for a number of reasons.
For example, some may see a psychiatrist in order to obtain a treatment plan for a mental health condition, such as:
Others may seek psychiatric services to receive help for 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 call 800-799-4889.
There are a number of 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 2016 review, online psychiatric sessions tend to be more cost effective than in-person psychiatric sessions.
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
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 provider. 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.
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 healthcare provider for more information and advice about online psychiatry before deciding whether or not it is a suitable option for them.