Telepsychiatry coming to underserved North Carolina hospitals

North Carolina health officials hope to make up for a shortage of psychiatrists in North Carolina by using telemedicine.

According to Deputy Secretary for Health Services and acting State Health Director Dr. Robin Cummings, 58 of the North Carolina’s 100 counties have too few physicians addressing mental health issues.

In some counties, there is no psychiatrist at all.

Dr. Cummings estimates that the need for psychiatrist will only increase as the population of the state continues to grow and people age. To make up for the deficit, a concept called Telepsychiatry is being implemented at local hospitals and healthcare providers in across the state.

Telepsychiatry involves a two-way interactive audio/video link that matches a patient with a consultant, similar to Facetime or Skype. The psychiatrist can conduct a consultation from anywhere in the world, but Dr. Cummings says the consultations in North Carolina will be conducted through East Carolina University’s E-Behavioral Health Telepsychiatry Center.

The equipment will enable the psychiatrist to zoom in and watch the patient’s hand movement, check eyes to see if pupils are dilating or constricting; and they’ve even be able to notice skin sweating. The patient will see the doctor on a hi-definition monitor.

As the procedure becomes more available, Dr. Cummings believes it will drive down costs even more, making the process very affordable for patients.

Experts note telemedicine has proven effective with children and adolescents, who are accustomed to similar technology.

The move is expected to be very beneficial for small, rural hospitals, where patients face long drives to find such care.

The telepsychiatry program begins operating in January 2014.