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American Psychiatric Association’s New Telepsychiatry Guidelines Show Acceptance of Telebehavioral Health

In conjunction with their Annual Meetup last week, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) launched a “telepsychiatry toolkit” designed to increase physician knowledge of telepsychiatry.

As a major voice in modern psychiatry, the APA’s announcement of these new guidelines is an important advancement in the acceptance of telepsychiatry and telemedicine at large. I applaud the APA for releasing these guidelines and creating a permanent Committee on Telepsychiatry to ensure that these standards are kept up-to-date with clinical best practices.

This toolkit comes at a time when requests for clinical training content and presentations about telepsychiatry have been growing and training programs have been working to further incorporate clinical best practices for telepsychiatry into their day-to-day activities. Telepsychiatry is a hot topic and an appealing lifestyle for many providers who want to work from home and have the flexibility in their location that telepsychiatry provides. As telepsychiatry and telemedicine become a more mainstream way of delivering care, we must develop a new generation of remote providers who embrace technology as a tool to increase access to care and educate the existing provider population on how to incorporate telehealth into their work.

Acceptance of Telebehavioral Health

In 2014, the American Medical Association (AMA) adopted a new telemedicine policy, wherein they recommended that individual specialty groups and organizations across medical disciplines work to develop their own telemedicine practice standards and guidelines. I echoed this recommendation, calling upon the APA to produce a current set of guidelines for telepsychiatry and utilize the expertise of its membership to write a series of standards to create a solid guidebook of clinical expectations.

The following year, APA president Renee Binder, MD established a telepsychiatry work group, now the committee, with the goal of developing a mechanism to deliver more information on telepsychiatry to APA members. An InSight on-demand telepsychiatrist, Hind Benjelloun, MD, serves on APA’s Committee on Telepsychiatry. The group has created the telepsychiatry toolkit, which draws on clinical research and telepsychiatry guidelines set forth by the American Telemedicine Association (ATA) in 2013.

The APA toolkit contains information on more than 20 key telepsychiatry and telebehavioral health topics in the areas of history and background information; training; practice and clinical issues; and legal and reimbursement issues. Each topic has a brief research-backed summary and a three-minute video high-level overviews from national telepsychiatry experts.

I have practiced telepsychiatry for over 17 years, working in a variety of settings and with people of all ages. In that time I have seen incredible growth in telepsychiatry as a means of delivering behavioral health care. Until recently, official guidelines for the practice of telepsychiatry have lagged behind.

Telemental health guidelines

Fortunately, professional organizations are starting to catch up, as demonstrated by the APA’s adoption of telepsychiatry standards. Additionally, the ATA’s telemental health special interest group is working to finalize guidelines specific to practicing child and adolescent telemental health under the leadership of Kathleen Myers, MD. I have had the chance to review these guidelines and am enthused by the level of detail and quality they will bring to telepsychiatry for child and adolescents.

It is critical that experts and professional organizations continue to advance telepsychiatry and telemedicine as these mediums continue to grow in popularity and become part of standard care. Therefore, I call upon organizations of all disciplines to continue to initiate or continue the process of developing discipline-specific telemedicine guidelines.

When organizations such as the APA introduce telepsychiatry guidelines, they recognize telepsychiatry as an important component of the mental health delivery system and a legitimate means of increasing access to behavioral health care. Furthermore, such acknowledgement of telepsychiatry and telemedicine’s legitimacy from professional organizations encourages state medical boards, the CMS and private payers to recognize telemedicine as a capable means of delivering care and that telemedicine services merit the same level of payment as in-person care. I applaud the APA for developing their telepsychiatry toolkit and establishing a permanent telepsychiatry committee, and I look forward to other organizations following their lead.

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