Phone-A-Freud: 'Telepsychiatry' Brings Mental Health Help To Rural Areas

Paging Dr. Skype.

North Carolina is facing a very big mental health care challenge — 28 counties across the state do not have a single psychiatrist. That's despite the fact that in recent years, emergency rooms in the state have seen more patients with mental health, developmental disability or substance abuse problems.

So the state is trying telepsychiatry. When a patient comes into an emergency room, they can be connected via a two-way video connection with a psychiatrist. A recent study by the nonpartisan North Carolina Center for Public Policy Research found that the method is having some success in providing more timely treatment.

One of the psychiatrists, Dr. Sy Atezaz Saeed, told NPR's Robert Siegel that that's very much like being face-to-face with a patient.

"When you ask patients about this experience, most of them will tell you that after a few minutes of some hesitation, they even forget that they are talking to the doctor via this monitor," Saeed, the chairman of the psychiatry department at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, says.

A clinic I go to has been doing some tele-diagnosis for a while with quite a bit of success. It seems to be an even more natural fit for psychiatric help, if the security concerns are always adequately addressed, that is. In our NSA-is-everywhere world that may never be the case.