Telepsychiatry helps mental health care reach remote areas

By helping to treat more than 1,000 mentally disturbed patients in remote areas of Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir, 'Telepsychiatry', a computer based system prepared by experts of mental health, is emerging as an effective substitute of psychiatrists in far-fetched areas.

In India, there are only 0.2 psychiatrists per every one lakh people, which shows that there is an acute shortage of psychiatrists. Telepsychistry has helped to fill the gap between the demand and availability of mental health services in remote areas.

Dr Savita Malhotra, Head of Department, Psychiatry, PGIMER said, "Under the telepsychiatry project, physicians in remote and rural areas have been educated and empowered to identify and treat people suffering from mental disorders. They will use a 'knowledge-based clinical decision support system' and if required, they can take help through specialist consultation via telepsychiatry."

She said that the system contains a semi-structured interview with in-built rules that guides the diagnoses. "There is a format with a list of questions. A trained physician at a clinic will ask the questions mentioned in the format and fill the answers as described by the patients. When the interview gets over, answers will be automatically accessed by the system and the system will generate the diagnoses then and there," she said.

She added that every patient is issued a unique identification number and Electronic Medical Record (EMR) is maintained.

When asked if the system is a good substitute for a psychiatrist, the doctor said, "This system is equivalent to a virtual doctor, because years of experience and knowledge of several experts in the field of mental heath have been utilised during the setting up of the system."

Telepsychiatry has been started at the regional hospitals of Bilaspur, Uttarakhand and the Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Srinagar. The nodal centre of telepsychiatry is at PGIMER.

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