There’s no question that technology has dramatically impacted our daily lives. It’s changed how we stay connected with family and friends, how we shop, pay our bills, work, play, and even manage our health.
During a weekly radio program called Spectrum, public affairs reporter Amani Abraham recently talked with child and adolescent psychiatrist John Bober, of Akron Children’s Hospital, about how technology is making a huge impact in healthcare, specifically in the area of telemedicine.
After receiving a grant from the Margaret Clark Morgan Foundation in 2012, Dr. Bober and his team launched a pilot program through Akron Children’s Hospital’s Locust Pediatric Care Group to offer telepsychiatry services to patients outside the region.
“There’s a shortage of child psychiatrists nationwide,” said Dr. Bober, the program’s project leader. “Usually, child psychiatrists like to live in major metropolitan areas, which then means that more rural areas don’t [have access to psychiatrists]. So, there are a lot of people, even just in Ohio, that are a distance from Akron itself — or from Cleveland, Columbus or Cincinnati — that have to drive quite a distance. So this pilot … was in preparation for offering a service at a greater distance.”
The telepsychiatry program allows Dr. Bober and other mental health professionals to conduct appointments using video-conferencing equipment — the same technology used in many business meetings today, but in this case it’s with children and typically their mothers or fathers.
“The initial pilot we did only involved a distance of a couple of blocks, but the concept is the same,” he said. “So whether you’re a couple of blocks away or you’re thousands of miles away, the technology makes it appear as if you’re in the same place.”
Obstacles remain for telemedicine
Though Dr. Bober found the positives of telemedicine outweighed the negatives, he uncovered a few obstacles.
“There are times when the parent may come to the session and all of a sudden pull out a piece of paper,” he explained, offering a report card or note from the teacher as examples. “It’s hard for them just to put it in front of the camera and say, ‘well, here, look at this’; where in person, it’s easier for me to read it.”
Fortunately, these items can be scanned into the electronic medical record (EMR) or faxed over for Dr. Bober to review before the appointment. In addition, he can provide take-aways or informational sheets in the EMR that can be printed when patients check out.
Prescriptions are another concern. Though most can be handled electronically, there are exceptions.
“There are certain prescriptions, [such as] ADHD medications, that still cannot be electronically prescribed,” he said. “So, there has to be some sort of method for how those prescriptions are printed and then provided to the parent.”
Throughout the pilot program, patient satisfaction surveys were issued after each visit. Dr. Bober discovered that most patients found it just as acceptable to see him over a screen as they would in real life.
“Actually, I find that kids are more familiar with technology from their televisions, their cell phones, their tablets and actually think it’s sorta cute or fun to do it,” said Dr. Bober, who believes telepsychiatry services could potentially be used for the majority of mental health issues in children, but it’s too early to say for sure.
In January, Dr. Bober and his team phased out the pilot program and are now offering face-to-face medication management services to nearly 80 patients in Stark County through mental health organization Child & Adolescent Behavioral Health.
By this fall, they plan to transition to video-conferencing and increase that number to more than 100 patients. The telepsychiatry services will be provided to patients in an office setting — whether it’s the office of the patient’s pediatrician or a mental health agency — as opposed to their homes.
Dr. Bober hopes to expand these services and reach throughout the greater northeast Ohio area region next year.