Arizona Telemedicine May 2014 - Page 20

TELEPSYCHIATRY: Bridging the Distance between Patients and Mental Health Care The entire state of Arizona is a federally designated “Mental Health Care Health Professional Shortage Area.” The Arizona Telemedicine Program has succeeded in bridging the distance between patients in rural areas and the psychiatrists and other professionals from whom they receive psychotherapy and other mental health care. And, as one psychiatrist explains, telemedicine is a valuable asset even when patient and provider are both based in Phoenix – the nation’s sixth-largest city. Sara Gibson, MD, is a pioneer. A psychiatrist with Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority (NARBHA) in Flagstaff, Dr. Gibson became the first in Arizona to practice psychiatry via telemedicine. Dr. Gibson had just returned to work from maternity leave. “I was covering Apache County, on the New Mexico border, where there are only two towns, St. Johns and Springerville,” she recalls. “Travel is always an issue – and it was even more so after the birth of my son. My husband is a physician who’s on call a lot. And so NARBHA approached me and said, ‘This is totally new for us, would you be willing to pilot this?’” 16 While other psychiatrists have resisted the option of seeing patients via videoconference, “that was a barrier I didn’t have,” Dr. Gibson says. “I was enthusiastic and willing to make it work. “It’s still about getting the care to the patients, and sometimes that means trying different things. And this way, I can see two patients in the time it takes to drive three hours round-trip. And it dramatically increases compliance with appointments if you can be seen in your own community.” Since Dr. Gibson first saw patients via video in 1996, NARBHA’s telepsychiatry network has hosted more than 120,000 doctor-patient sessions throughout northern Arizona. Dr. Gibson has found telepsychiatry to work well for children age 4 and older. “Kids are just really comfortable with technology in a way their parents may not be,” she says. “I have a little stuffed toy Eeyore that I use to get their attention. And they play with me. They hide under the desk. I can follow them around the room with my camera and see all I need to see. I can zoom in, zoom out, and run around the room with them.” Dr. Gibson also has found that adults who have been abused or traumatized are often more comfortable with telemedicine than with face-to-face sessions. “I really believe that a telemedicine evaluation is equivalent to face-to-face,” Dr. Gibson says. “I don’t feel like I’m making compromises at all. I feel like I’m doing what’s best for the people I serve.” “Telemedicine dramatically increases compliance with appointments if you can be seen in your own community.” Sara Gibson, MD