The number one cause of all suicides, college and otherwise, is untreated depression.
Even though one in five college students believe their depression level is higher than it should be, only 6% say they would seek help for it. Consistent with these reports are findings that only a small number of students who report being depressed are actually receiving treatment. According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, reports show that the vast majority of students who die by suicide are not clients of university counseling centers. With more insurance companies covering telemedicine services, this new avenue of medical care delivery has the potential for great growth.
Although many colleges are expanding suicide-prevention programs to address these issues, students, particularly those who are prescribed anti-depressants, are often inconsistent with follow up appointments and taking prescriptions as advised by their physicians. Researchers found that on average, telepsychiatry increased compliance with psychiatric care appointments among college-aged individuals. One possible explanation is that telemedicine is less disruptive to students' schedules than face-to-face visits. Remote monitoring of patients has also allowed practitioners to check in with their patients more regularly. This capability enables patients to be seen by their physicians even when they may be traveling or unable to physically get to the office because they commute or live off campus.
While some skeptics claim that not being physically with the patient could lead to increased incidence of misdiagnoses, researchers at Marshall University found that 83% of patients who were diagnosed as per the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) through the use of telepsychiatry, were correctly diagnosed.
Added benefits also include reduced costs. Expenses including service, travel, and office maintenance costs would be reduced for the provider, the patient, and possibly even for insurance companies. According to the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the average cost of an office visit with a primary care physician was $133 in 2011, while a telehealth visit costs an average of $35-$40. Findings also suggest that telepsychiatry can reduce wait, consultation, and diagnosis time.
Confidentiality concerns can be addressed via encryption technology that enables compliance with HIPAA. The use of encrypted codes or the setup of a virtual private network (VPN) and/or virtual local area networks (VLANs) decreases the risk of security breaches. Initial costs may be several thousand dollars for software, hardware and other infrastructure, however long term costs will ultimately be reduced.
Studies in rural and low-income communities also provide support for the use of telepsychiatry versus face-to-face interactions, particularly for mental health treatment. Studies continue to evaluate how effective telepsychiatry is at increasing access, reducing cost, and improving medical compliance and follow-through, particularly on college campuses. So, when would you like to schedule your next videoconference appointment?