The family doctor who makes house calls well after he or she closes their practice for the day is a thing of the past. However, in New York State, Premier HealthCare, part of YAI, launched a telehealth program this fall for psychiatry that allows people with disabilities to access quality mental healthcare from the comfort of their homes, according to DisabilityScoop.
As of now, residents of six different centers housing people with disabilities are able to receive mental healthcare via video chat after receiving an initial in-person diagnosis in accordance with state law. Any Premier patient in New York is eligible for the service.
The telehealth appointments are affordable — usually less expensive than an office visit — and often more convenient for people with disabilities. Premier executive director Hope Levy told DisabilityScoop telehealth services are typically covered by Medicaid and private insurance, but these services aren’t generally covered by Medicare unless the patient resides in a rural area.
“They have a hard time making appointments, they miss appointments,” Levy said of individuals with disabilities. “[Telehealth] allows for consistency and continuity of care.”
In a telemedicine pilot program on Long Island designed to lower the rate of emergency room visits for people with disabilities, caregivers for 161 people living in group homes said 93% of patients preferred the video appointments and had reduced anxiety, according to a 2018 survey by Medpod.
“Our patients often experience anxiety or agitation with long waits due to traffic issues or the clinic being overcrowded,” Elizabeth Ducat, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Premier, told DisabilityScoop. “They also need to sit in a large waiting room prior to the health care visit where they may be exposed to other patients exhibiting verbal or physical outbursts.”
Telehealth cuts out many headaches that are synonymous with making a trek to the doctor’s office, including finding a ride and navigating a building that may not be fully accessible.
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Even though virtual therapy might impede the important patient-doctor relationship, as far as intimacy goes, sometimes less is more. Ducat said patients she sees virtually tend to be more relaxed compared with those she sees in an office setting, letting her get a better sense of their baseline.