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College Telepsychiatry Finally Catching Up—Slowly

The majority of American college students feel overwhelmed, depressed, and/or anxious, according to the latest American College Health Association survey. Unfortunately, many schools lack easy access to needed mental health care—if they have any at all. And this doesn’t even take into account the students’ hesitation to seek help due to the stigma often associated with mental illnesses. With the growth of telemedicine, telepsychiatry and telemental health present a viable solution that could overcome many of these challenges.

Already proven to be just as effective as in-person treatments for mental disorders, telepsychiatry offers several benefits for both students and universities. Students will likely value the privacy and easy access, making them more likely to seek treatment. Other issues may also be alleviated, such as lack of transportation, time off from work or class, or childcare, since telepsychiatry hours are not limited to business hours. Universities will appreciate the ability to expand mental health services without requiring large outlays for buildings and staff.

As universities contemplate adding a telepsychiatry program to their resources, they must navigate through evolving legal, regulatory, and financial matters, many of which depend on local or state jurisdictions. These include:

  • Licensing – Some states require doctors to have a telemedicine license in order to practice telemedicine, while other states require physicians to be board certified in their specialties before they can practice telemedicine. Some states allow a doctor licensed in another state to work with telemedicine patients within their borders, but other states require doctors to be licensed in the patient’s jurisdiction.
  • Reimbursement – Increasing numbers of private insurers are covering telemedicine, as are Medicare and Medicaid. However, over half of U.S. states lack laws governing coverage from commercial carriers. For students on their parents’ health plans, this could be a problem.
  • Security – The telemedicine platforms must comply with HIPAA; data must be encrypted, and the web link must be secure. For instance, Skype is not HIPAA-compliant.
  • Informed consent – The states vary widely in their requirements for ensuring that patients understand the potential risks and options regarding treatment, or in this case, telepsychiatry. In a few states, patients must also be informed on how to receive follow-up care.

Although telepsychiatry can be very effective for disorders such as depression, panic attacks, or anxiety, urgent and severe cases still need in-person intervention. This includes cases where people may be in danger of harming themselves or others.

As telemedicine becomes more available on college campuses, recommendation from trusted sources (word-of-mouth) will spread the word about the accessibility and effectiveness of telepsychiatry, believes Dr. Nadia Islam, clinical director of the University of Southern California (USC) Telehealth. USC has operated an online behavioral health clinic since 2012; during this time, the professors associated with the program have found that many of their clients have admitted either that they would never have sought therapy in the past, or that they tried therapy before but didn’t stick with it; most of these patients tend to shy away from traditional office buildings.

By using a smartphone, tablet, or computer—at home or a local mental health agency—patients can bring the doctor into their homes or dorm rooms, instead of traveling to the doctor. This enables the doctor to see more patients each day, since moving from one patient to the next is a simple matter of ending one call and picking up another. And when both patients and doctors benefit, this can only be a win-win solution for everyone involved.

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For Telemedicine, 5G Networks Hold Promise

The recent speculation over whether the U.S. federal government might build a 5G network brings up an intriguing question: Does telemedicine need 5G networks? At first glance, the answer may appear to be a resounding “Yes” because most telemedicine systems require high-bandwidth networks in order to function reliably. However, a closer look at the current market suggests that a more cautious approach may be warranted. When it comes to telemedicine, 5G may not be a panacea after all—at least not today. Read more

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Prison Telemedicine Provides Relief to NYC

At New York City’s Rikers Island jail complex, inmates typically endure hours of onerous travel and waiting just to spend five minutes with a doctor. With the recent introduction of prison telemedicine, the entire experience has transformed; shackles, holding pens, and hurried in-person visits have been replaced by local virtual visits that are long enough for patients to voice their concerns. The result is a win-win situation: Patients are assured of confidentiality while they receive the care they want and need, all from the relative comfort of the prison, while the prison saves untold dollars from eliminating the need for secure transport. Read more

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Telemedicine for Asthma Is as Effective as Doctor Visits

For children, having asthma generally means working with an allergist for treatment. However, many children in underserved regions, such as inner-city or rural areas, are unable to visit an allergist’s office due to obstacles such as distance or cost. As a result, these patients often do not receive the best, most cost-effective care available. There is hope, though: A new study shows that using telemedicine for asthma treatment can be as effective as an in-person visit. This discovery could bring the allergist virtually to the local health clinics, removing some of these barriers to care. Read more

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swyMed Featured by TechTarget at ATA 2016

TechTarget recently highlighted swyMed as one of the most interesting technologies at ATA 2016, the annual conference and trade show of the American Telemedicine Association. Considering that 279 exhibitors competed for the attention of 6,000 visitors, we’re pleased to have made an impression. Read more

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USDA Grants $5 Mil to Telemedicine and Distance Learning Programs

This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it would provide $4.7 million through its Distance Learning and Telemedicine (DLT) program to 18 projects spread across 16 states. The overall goal is to bring more medical expertise to underserved rural areas through improved access to health care, and expanded substance misuse treatment. In addition, the funding will offer advanced educational opportunities to local businesses, adults, and teens to help create jobs and boost economic development in rural regions. Read more

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Telemedicine Use Rising Rapidly among Medicare Beneficiaries

In one of the first published studies to measure exactly how often telemedicine is utilized, Harvard Medical School researchers discovered that telemedicine use among Medicare patients grew roughly 28 percent each year between 2004 and 2013. This rise is even more impressive in light of Medicare’s restrictive reimbursement policy: Medicare only pays for telemedicine visits if the patient lives in a rural area and travels to a clinic for the telemedicine visit. Read more

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Using Telemedicine for Diabetes Care Improves Outcomes

A recent article offers good news for diabetics: When patient information is monitored with telemedicine, outcomes improve. By digitizing data, such as blood glucose levels, caloric intake, weight, and exercise patterns, patients’ data can be transmitted to health professionals for analysis. Read more

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Telemedicine for MS Brings Therapy Into the Home

Telemedicine is quickly becoming a game-changer for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS). The physical disability caused by MS makes it difficult for patients to visit their doctors and physical therapists, but a recent study found that participating in telerehabilitation programs can improve postural control and balance. For these patients, telemedicine for MS can mean the difference between a devastating fall and regaining balance. Read more

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Telemedicine Pilot Program Successful for Parkinson’s Patients

Patients with Parkinson’s disease are used to devoting an entire day and driving long miles to be seen by a specialist. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. Thanks to telemedicine, though, this could soon change. Last fall, Rush University Medical Center launched a telemedicine pilot program that allows patients to visit their physicians virtually, from the comfort of their own homes. Read more