The thought of seeing a psychiatrist can be overwhelming. You have to find one in your area and call to schedule an appointment. Then there’s the daunting task of your visit itself. The process can be intimidating, especially if you’re new to mental-health treatment.
You have to get yourself out of the house and to the office, which may entail taking time off work or school, a long commute, finding parking, arranging childcare, coordinating schedules with your partner. And for some people, simply being in a clinical setting and surrounded by other people — even before the onset of the pandemic — is stressful, no matter how comfortable the waiting-room chairs are.
So, the question is, why not make an appointment with an online psychiatrist instead?
Is an Online Psychiatrist the Same as an In-Person Psychiatrist?
Online psychiatrists are just like psychiatrists who treat patients in person. Providers include medical doctors (MD), doctors of osteopathic medicine (DO), or nurse practitioners (NP) who diagnose and treat mental illnesses including anxiety, depression, personality disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and more.
Treatments can include cognitive therapies, but what sets psychiatrists apart from psychologists, counselors, and psychotherapists is their ability to prescribe medications, such as antidepressants, stimulants, antipsychotic medications, sedatives, and mood stabilizers.
The only difference between providers who practice in person and those who work online is the method of delivery — you’ll be seeing a provider on screen rather than sitting in their office.
Pros of Seeing an Online Psychiatrist
For many people, the number-one benefit of seeing an online psychiatrist is convenience. You don’t have to travel, which means you also have increased flexibility with your time. Even if you are working or have other obligations during the day, there’s no need to schedule extra time for travel to and from your appointment.
The digital environment may also be preferable for those who suffer from social and psychological disorders that make being around other people uncomfortable, such as social anxiety disorder. Online, there’s no crowded waiting room, uncomfortable small talk or even a reception desk. Just you and your psychiatrist. Being online might even make the experience of meeting someone new more comfortable than in an unfamiliar office!
Even if you don’t suffer from any social disorders, online psychiatry appointments give you the freedom to conduct the session from wherever you’re most comfortable, whether that’s at your kitchen table or curled up under a blanket on the couch. Digital appointments can also mean the difference between getting treatment or not for those with limited mobility or whose physical health prevents them from traveling.
Additionally, seeking online treatment significantly increases your options. Instead of being limited to a handful of psychiatrists in your geographic area, with online treatment, you can work with anyone who’s licensed in your state (though you’ll want to make sure your provider of choice is covered by your health-insurance provider or be prepared to pay out of pocket).
Cons of Seeing an Online Psychiatrist
While online psychiatric treatment is a great option for many, it’s not for everyone. Environment and access to technology play important roles in deciding whether digital psychiatric treatment is the best option for you.
Seeing an online psychiatrist requires that you have a secure, reliable internet connection and a computer, tablet or smartphone. You’ll also need access to a safe and private space from which to conduct your appointment. If you’re worried about your connection dropping or someone overhearing you, you’re less likely to have a productive session.
How Does an Appointment With an Online Psychiatrist Work?
Most online psychiatrists operate as part of a hospital, mental health clinic, or online therapy platform. Some operate independently, especially after the pandemic forced a pause in most elective in-person visits to the doctor.
If your first appointment with your online psychiatrist is also your very first appointment with that provider, you may be required to submit additional information, such as blood work or other medical information from your general practitioner.
To begin your appointment, you will most likely sign into a secure portal hosted by your provider. You may then enter a digital “waiting room.” When it’s time for your appointment to begin, your psychiatrist will begin the session and a video-call window will open.
Just as with an in-person session, your provider will ask for a brief medical history, information about any medications you’re taking or symptoms you’re experiencing, and why you are seeking psychiatric treatment.
Your online psychiatrist will then make his or her recommendations for further treatment, including any prescription medications.
Is Online Psychiatry Safe?
All licensed psychiatrists are subject to state and national laws that protect the confidentiality of your medical information, and there are HIPAA regulations in place to regulate telehealth practices for data security. Talkspace is also SOC 2 compliant, which means that your privacy, security, and confidentiality are assured.
To further increase data security on your end, make sure your internet connection is private and secure. Don’t conduct sessions on public wifi or in public places. Also, stick to the video conferencing portal provided by your psychiatrist. While you might be more comfortable and familiar with popular video conferencing applications like Skype, Zoom or FaceTime, these are not designed to protect confidential information and are not HIPAA compliant.
How to Find an Online Psychiatrist
Online psychiatry sessions are more common now than ever, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Do you already have a primary clinic or mental-health provider? Check with them to see if telehealth is an option. If not, contact your health-insurance agency for a list of covered providers, then contact those providers to inquire about telehealth options.
You can also find a host of telehealth options like Talkspace online psychiatry — just remember to do your due diligence and check for the appropriate licensure.
Psychiatrists aren’t all leather couches and notebooks, whatever popular culture might indicate. We live in an age of digital work, play, and health, and your options for psychiatric help are broader than ever.
So open up that laptop, log on, and take the first step to a healthier you today!