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"It's 2016, and keeping in touch is easier than ever. With Skype, Facetime, and now Instagram stories — all we need to keep in contact with friends and loved ones is consistent access to a screen.Could this all-access pass to connecting with others be the answer to an imminent medical dilemma? According to research, it is.
"Telehealth" and more specifically "telepsychiatry," is the new medical phenomenon in which patients receive the help they need through a screen. Consider it the technologically advanced version of making a house call.
It may seem strange at first, but with 15 million American children in need of treatment for mental health disorders who are not receiving it, it just might be the answer.
"We need three times as many psychiatrists as we have," Dr. Gregory Fritz, Rhode Island-based child and adolescent psychiatrist and president of the AACAP, told TIME. And with the average age of child and adolescent medical experts ranging around 55, we're facing a rapid decline of experts in the field. Many retire with no one to replace them, leaving people with nowhere to turn for treatment.
The issue is most prevalent in rural states like Kentucky, where one parent, whose daughter Rebecca was suffering from depression, couldn't get the help she needed due to a lack of resources in the area, but Rebecca was able to find a doctor not only willing to treat her, but able to see her immediately through video chatting.
It wasn't a problem for Rebecca, though, "It's like Skype through a TV," she told TIME. "You get used to it."
Telepsychiatry may take some getting used to, but it's certainly the start of a solution to a critical predicament: according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP the country needs more than 30,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists. Right now, there are only 8,300.
"I got into telepsychiatry because it's one answer to a really, really huge problem. It's not the answer, it's just an answer to a huge crisis going on."
One of the bigger issues with telepsychiatry is a lack of real contact. The missing element of human touch is not something you can send over Skype or FaceTime.
"A caring touch or handing a patient a tissue can never be possible," Hind Benjelloun, a District of Columbia-based crisis psychiatrist with InSight Telepsychiatry, said in an interview, adding that it prevents her from getting a complete idea of her patient's mental health. "I am unable to clearly see self-inflicted wounds or tears."
No system is perfect, of course. But with technology constantly improving, becoming cheaper, more reliable and most importantly, accessible, telehealth has been, and will be a wonderful resource for people unable to receive the treatment they need in their respective areas. There's no doubt that the U.S. needs more child psychiatrists overall, but young people in every area can now have access to mental health treatment they need, and that's certainly something to celebrate in itself."