Unmet Needs: Look onscreen, the doctor will see you now
In many places in Illinois, providers are looking to telemedicine to expand access to psychiatric care. Friday on Focus, we take a look at the nuances of treating patients via a computer screen as a part of our series “Unmet Needs: Living with mental illness in central Illinois.”
Harry Wolin manages Mason District Hospital in Havana, Illinois, one of many clinics in Illinois that provide care to medically underserved areas. The hospital has been treating patients via telepsychiatry, when a patient meets with a doctor via a computer screen, for about four years now. Wolin says they started offering appointments that way after the county mental health center shut down due to lack of funding.
“If we wouldn’t have started offering this service, many of our patients would have had to travel an hour or more to see somebody,” he explains.
In an evolving health care system where cost control and efficiency are key, some are looking to telepsychiatry as a solution; some are more skeptical. Could the technology a way to offer more patients quicker access to a doctor? Is that really the best solution?
Joey Ramp gets uncomfortable in large crowds of people. New places also make her uneasy. It’s her service dog, Theo, and her highly regimented schedule that helps her handle her anxiety and cope with her post-traumatic stress disorder. Theo is always with her, and since her disability isn’t visible, she says people are curious. Sometimes they ask; sometimes they don’t. “Most often, when people ask and I say I have PTSD, people want to thank me for my service.”
That makes it awkward for Ramp to explain that she never served in the military.
According to federal labor statistics, there are more psychiatrists working in Illinois than most states, with the bulk of that service concentrated in the Chicagoland area. But mental health providers say there are major gaps in service across Illinois, especially downstate.