Suddenly Becoming a “Virtual Doctor”: Experiences of Psychiatrists Transitioning to Telemedicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Psychiatr Serv. 2020 Sep 16:appips202000250. doi: 10.1176/ Online ahead of print.


OBJECTIVE: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many psychiatrists have rapidly transitioned to telemedicine. This qualitative study sought to understand how this dramatic change in delivery has affected mental health care, including modes of telemedicine psychiatrists used, barriers encountered, and future plans. The aim was to inform the ongoing COVID-19 response and pass on lessons learned to psychiatrists who are starting to offer telemedicine.

METHODS: From March 31 to April 9, 2020, semistructured interviews were conducted with 20 outpatient psychiatrists practicing in five U.S. states with significant early COVID-19 activity. Inductive and deductive approaches were used to develop interview summaries, and a matrix analysis was conducted to identify and refine themes.

RESULTS: At the time of the interviews, all 20 psychiatrists had been using telemedicine for 2-4 weeks. Telemedicine encompassed video visits, phone visits, or both. Although many continued to prefer in-person care and planned to return to it after the pandemic, psychiatrists largely perceived the transition positively. However, several noted challenges affecting the quality of provider-patient interactions, such as decreased clinical data for assessment, diminished patient privacy, and increased distractions in the patient’s home setting. Several psychiatrists noted that their disadvantaged patients lacked reliable access to a smartphone, computer, or the Internet. Participants identified several strategies that helped them improve telemedicine visit quality.

CONCLUSIONS: The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a dramatic shift in how psychiatrists deliver care. Findings highlight that although psychiatrists expressed some concerns about the quality of these encounters, the transition has been largely positive for both patients and physicians.

PMID:32933411 | DOI:10.1176/