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Chen JA, Chung WJ, Young SK, Tuttle MC, Collins MB, Darghouth SL, Longley R, Levy R, Razafsha M, Kerner JC, Wozniak J, Huffman JC. COVID-19 and telepsychiatry: Early outpatient experiences and implications for the future. General hospital psychiatry. 2020 Sep 1; 66:89-95.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically transformed the U.S. healthcare landscape. Within psychiatry, a sudden relaxing of insurance and regulatory barriers during the month of March 2020 enabled clinicians practicing in a wide range of settings to quickly adopt virtual care in order to provide critical ongoing mental health supports to both existing and new patients struggling with the pandemic''s impact. In this article, we briefly review the extensive literature supporting the effectiveness of telepsychiatry relative to in-person mental health care, and describe how payment and regulatory challenges were the primary barriers preventing more widespread adoption of this treatment modality prior to COVID-19. We then review key changes that were implemented at the federal, state, professional, and insurance levels over a one-month period that helped usher in an unprecedented transformation in psychiatric care delivery, from mostly in-person to mostly virtual. Early quality improvement data regarding virtual visit volumes and clinical insights from our outpatient psychiatry department located within a large, urban, tertiary care academic medical center reflect both the opportunities and challenges of virtual care for patients and providers. Notable benefits have included robust clinical volumes despite social distancing mandates, reduced logistical barrieres to care for many patients, and decreased no-show rates. Finally, we provide clinical suggestions for optimizing telepsychiatry based on our experience, make a call for advocacy to continue the reduced insurance and regulatory restrictions affecting telepsychiatry even once this public health crisis has passed, and pose research questions that can help guide optimal utilization of telepsychiatry as mainstay or adjunct of outpatient psychiatric treatment now and in the future.