Is Telepsychiatry Appropriate For Inpatient Settings?

Mature female patient used tablet on bed in hospital

Telepsychiatry has been utilized in a variety of inpatient units with success and is an acceptable mode of delivering care in these settings. Both government and corporate health care organizations have embraced telepsychiatry for this purpose. In the early days of telepsychiatry, some administrators and providers were hesitant or skeptical about using telepsychiatry for inpatient units. Reasons given were mostly a subjective and vague concern about the ability of providers to appropriately care for severely ill patients without being on site, in person.

However, in recent years, as telepsychiatry has become more widely adopted, those concerns have diminished. Those who have experience with inpatient telepsychiatry have come to understand that providing care in this way is not substantially different that how it would be provided in-person. In fact, there are several advantages of telepsychiatry over onsite psychiatry in the inpatient unit:

  • Telepsychiatry allows inpatient units in underserved and rural areas to be adequately staff
  • Telepsychiatry allows the provider to work from the comfort of his home, rather than being forced to sit for long hours under fluorescent lights within a noisy, musty and uncomfortable inpatient unit.
  • Telepsychiatry gives providers opportunities to create any variety of schedule that works best for their lifestyle, including working during odd hours, weekdays, nights, part time, or full time. With telepsychiatry, shifts can more easily be modified and swapped to fit the needs of the providers.
  • Telepsychiatry allows the inpatient unit to supplement staff easily and efficiently. This is especially useful when facilities are running short on staff due to illness, surges in patient volume, or any other factors.
  • Telepsychiatry allows for 24/7 coverage of inpatient units, which is often hard to do when relying solely on in-person onsite coverage.

The Importance of Effective Communication: Effective communication is important in virtually any healthcare setting, and inpatient telepsychiatry is no different. Communication between the telepsychiatrist and members of the inpatient treatment team allows optimal coordination of patient care. This includes:

  • Reviewing the treatment plan
  • Reviewing progress of the patient toward discharge goals
  • Addressing urgent and emergent patient issues
  • Relaying factors on the unit which may affect patient experience. For example, excess noise from other patients, physical plant issues (like plumbing or electrical issues in the unit), overcrowding on the unit, or hostile patients that are disrupting the environment for other patients.
  • Oftentimes, the way a patient presents to the psychiatrist may be different than how they behave on the unit. It is helpful for the psychiatrist to know how the patient is doing both on and off camera.

Efforts should also be made to establish adequate communication between the telepsychiatrist and the patient. Although communication with a severely mentally ill person can often be challenging, the telepsychiatrist should try to involve the patient in the treatment goals and plans as well as answer any patient questions and concerns.

**What about paranoid and psychotic inpatients? Are they appropriate for telepsychiatry? **

There is no absolute contraindication for telepsychiatry and virtually any mental health condition can be treated via telepsychiatry. However, there are certain clinical situations where a patient’s mental status or condition may require that arrangements are made for onsite psychiatric care. For more information, please see the article “Are psychotic patients appropriate for telepsychiatry?”

In summary, telepsychiatry is an appropriate and effective way to provide care to inpatient facilities, especially when there is good communication.


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