A Call to Embrace Tele-psychiatry in Whitman and Latah County

    If we’re too rural to have enough psychiatrists to serve our communities, then I believe it’s time for us to embrace tele-psychiatry!  Whitman and Latah counties are considered rural according to a variety of definitions that are used as eligibility for federal programs. This means that we qualify to use telemedicine and have those sessions covered if Medicaid is our health provider.
     Where the two counties differ is with regard to each state’s telemedicine parity laws. Washington’s telemedicine parity law was enacted last year, and as of January 1, 2017 it has expanded to cover more telemedicine services to Washington residents. However, there is no private payer parity law in place in Idaho. Washington state mandates telemedicine coverage be equal to the reimbursement rate for in-person care under private insurance, state employee health plans and Medicaid. In Idaho, no such law exists, so telemedicine might be covered by an insurance plan or it might not.
     We cannot make psychiatrists or psychiatric nurse practitioners relocate their practices in our area. However, we CAN dramatically increase the level of access to these types of specialist through telemedicine. Tele-psychiatry is the term to describe going to a clinic and sitting at a computer monitor and talking with a psychiatric specialist via webcam. Tele-psychiatrists even have the ability to prescribe medication!
     Telemedicine is being use in a limited capacity on the Palouse with LOTS of room for us to expand. Latah and Whitman county residents need to let hospital administrators know that we want and need more tele-psychiatry made available.
     Not only could we use it for psychiatric evaluations or ongoing management, but it’s another option for hospitals for provider-to-provider consultations. If someone experiences a mental health crisis and goes to an emergency room, the hospital is unlikely to have a psychiatrist on call. However, with tele-psychiatry the attending physician can confer with a qualified mental health provider on an as needed basis. It is my intention to meet with the leadership from all three local hospitals to determine if they have access to telemedicine.
     In July, Palouse Advocacy League conducted research into what mental health professionals we have. We found there are at least 50 master level therapists and 18 psychologists. But none of these can prescribe medications. It’s possible to get a prescription from your primary care provider if they are willing to do so. The same research shows there are 3 psychiatrists who can see non-WSU or non-UofI students. So if you are a member of the general public your chances of getting in is slim.
     It is no mystery that rural areas like ours tend to lack psychiatric help. Say ‘YES’ to tele-psychiatry! It’s not just our best option, it’s our only option.