Telepsychiatry has made headlines in the mental health field over the past few years, as a rapidly growing number of organizations adopt it to improve care access. It may surprise some, then, to learn that telepsychiatry has been around more than 60 years.
As technology, regulations and public attitudes have evolved, so has telepsych’s ability to provide treatment, training and consultation to patients and medical professionals. Through the decades, telepsychiatry’s treatment efficacy for patients and efficiencies for healthcare organizations have kept pace every step of the way. Here, we take a closer look at the history of telepsychiatry in the United States.
1946: The National Mental Health Act is passed, making the mental health of the American people a federal priority. The act led to the creation and funding of the National Institute of Mental Health three years later and to better research, analysis, diagnosis and treatment of psychiatric disorders.
1957: Cecil Wittson of the Nebraska Psychiatric Institute develops and uses one-way closed-circuit television to train psychiatric students.
1959: The Nebraska Psychiatric Institute in Omaha uses two-way audio and video transmission to provide various therapies, consultations and training for medical students at the Nebraska state hospital in Norfolk, more than 100 miles northwest.
1969: Clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital provide psychiatric consultations to adults and children at a health clinic at Logan International Airport.
1993: The American Telemedicine Association is created to promote access to medical care to consumers and health professionals via telecommunications technology.
1995: The internet becomes wholly privatized when the U.S. government ends funding. Services like Prodigy and America Online help provide access to 44 million people worldwide, helping more people access care through telemedicine.
1996: In one of the earliest examples of state telemedicine legislation, California’s Telemedicine Development Act of 1996 prevents health insurance plans from requiring face-to-face contact between a patient and provider for telemedicine services.
Early 2000s: Telepsychiatry companies begin expanding service offerings to health clinics and communities in need of behavioral health care.
2006: A 29-month study on using telepsychiatry with incarcerated youth reveals that 80 percent were successfully prescribed medication and expressed confidence with the clinician’s recommendations, offering further proof of telepsychiatry’s efficacy.
2010: Regroup is founded; it is incorporated one year later.
2012: A large-scale study of the efficacy of telemental health services on U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs patients provides remarkable support for telepsychiatry. Between 2006 and 2010, psychiatric admissions of patients receiving telemental health treatment decreased by 24 percent, on average; days of hospitalization dropped over 26 percent; and the number of admissions and days of hospitalizations decreased for men and women in 83 percent of the age groups.
2013: Due to the rapid development of new technologies during the past 10 years, studies around this time begin to recognize telepsychiatry as a contemporary form of effective treatment, rather than prior thoughts of it being “new and different.”
2014: The National Defense Authorization Act expands telemedicine’s availability to veterans. This greatly benefits veterans suffering from PTSD, where the symptoms may take up to eight months to present themselves following a return home.
2015: The American Psychiatric Association creates the APA Ad Hoc Work Group on Telepsychiatry to develop educational materials and other resources related to the practice, research and policy implications of telepsychiatry. Today, this group is known as the APA Committee on Telepsychiatry.
2017: There are 5,042 mental health professional shortage area (HPSA) designations in the United States, with just one-third of residents in these areas receiving care. An additional 5,906 mental health professionals are needed to eliminate these HPSAs, underscoring the need to improve access through telepsychiatry.
2017: Significant partnerships lead to Regroup’s Series A round closing.
2017: The Interstate Medical Licensure Compact (IMLC) is created to expedite licensure for qualified physicians looking to practice in multiple states. The IMLC helps increase access to mental health and other healthcare treatment in designated HPSAs.
2018: Congress passes the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. The bill is designed to combat the opioid epidemic in the United States, and allows for states to seek federal reimbursement under Medicaid for substance abuse treatment services provided by telemedicine.
The history of telepsychiatry is one of ever-increasing momentum. As technology improves and companies like Regroup continue to offer much-needed and effective psychiatric services, telepsychiatry will continue to positively impact the nation’s vulnerable populations. And with an increase in access to treatment and awareness of the importance of behavioral health, the stigma surrounding mental illness will hopefully begin to fade and lead to a nation that is healthier in mind and body.