FFFTelepsychiatry and Your Child

No. 108; Updated May 2019

Telepsychiatry is the use of videoconferencing to provide psychiatric evaluation, consultation, and treatment. This technology is used by a child and adolescent psychiatrist to provide care to a patient (a child or teen and a parent) at a distant location. High quality audio and video can make a telepsychiatry consultation seem almost like an in-person appointment.

Why use telepsychiatry?
Some youth who struggle with mental health problems do not live near a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health expert. It is difficult for many families to travel to a distant city to get the help they need. Sometimes, their doctor or counselor requests a telepsychiatry consultation from a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Telepsychiatry is also sometimes used in emergency room settings.

How does telepsychiatry work?
Telepsychiatry appointments are similar to regular doctor visits except that the doctor and patient are in different locations. A staff member or therapist may also be present to participate in the appointment with the youth and parent. Both locations will have a television screen or computer monitor that allows two-way communication.

What are the benefits of telepsychiatry?
The main benefit is that youth obtain expert care that is not available near their homes. Telepsychiatry also helps to minimize the inconvenience and costs of traveling to distant cities, especially if the youth needs ongoing visits. The psychiatrist can also consult with other professionals taking care of the child, such as the primary care physician, therapist, or teacher. Telepsychiatry usually does not cost more than an in-person visit.

Will telepsychiatry be as effective as regular visits?
Research with adults shows that telepsychiatry is just as effective as treatment provided in-person. Research with youth and families is just beginning. It shows that children, families, and referring doctors are very satisfied with the care received through telepsychiatry. Treatment recommendations, prescriptions, and laboratory tests can be coordinated by the telepsychiatrist or the referring doctor's office.
Most telepsychiatry appointments can be done using an interpreter, if the telepsychiatrist does not speak your or your child’s language, just like for an in-person appointment.

Do telepsychiatrists get special training?
Most telepsychiatrists learn from other telepsychiatrists, staff at the medical center, or a company that hires them to provide telepsychiatry services. There is no state or national certificate. Recently, practice guidelines have been developed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Telemedicine Association.

Will my insurance cover telepsychiatry?
Insurance coverage for telepsychiatry varies by state. Parents should ask their local clinic, insurance provider, or psychiatrist. It is important to let the insurance company know that there are no available child and adolescent psychiatry resources in the area, and that telepsychiatry is not telephone therapy.
Below are some questions to ask before starting telepsychiatry to learn how the consultation or treatment will proceed:

  • Why is telepsychiatry being recommended for my child and how will it help?
  • What are other treatment alternatives and how do they compare?
  • Is this a one-time consultation or will my child be in ongoing treatment?
  • How much will it cost and how will the services be paid?
  • What are the arrangements for laboratory tests and prescriptions?
  • What happens if there is an emergency?
  • How will my child's privacy be protected?
  • Is the technology secure?
  • What happens if the equipment doesn't work?
  • Can an interpreter be provided when using telepsychiatry?

Consultation and ongoing treatment with a child and adolescent psychiatrist using telepsychiatry can be very helpful for many children and adolescents. If parents still have questions or doubts, they can ask the referring provider, the telepsychiatrist, or they can seek a consultation for a second opinion.