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Guide To Finding the Best Online Psychiatrist

When looking for the best online psychiatrist, look for a service that is HIPAA compliant, offers appointments in a format that is convenient for you, and has a pricing structure that meets your needs and addresses your mental health issues.

By: Chris Riley

Medically reviewed by: Dr. Gerardo Sison

Last Updated: April 5th, 2021

 

Accessing mental health services is notoriously difficult and expensive, particularly in the United States, but many companies are trying to change that. While patients used to wait months for an initial consultation or a follow-up appointment that was expensive, today, online psychiatry services are making it easier than ever to get the mental health care you need. 

We’ve put together a guide to finding the best online psychiatrist and other mental health services.

What is psychiatry?

Although they sound similar, many people are confused about the differences between the terms psychiatry and psychology. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatry is the branch of medicine focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. By contrast, the American Psychological Association is the scientific study of the mind and behavior. 

While psychologists do typically have a PhD, they are not considered medical doctors nor are licensed to assist in medication management. Certified Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MD or DO) who have completed medical school and residency and who are qualified to assess, diagnose, and treat mental and physical aspects of psychological problems. 

If you require a prescription medication for the treatment of a mental health condition, you’ll need to see a psychiatrist or other prescribing physician, as psychologists are not able to prescribe medication. 

How do I know if I need a psychiatrist or a therapist?

Although psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists all play a role in treating your mental health, and call all assist in an overall treatment plan, there are some important distinctions between these positions.

As noted above, a psychiatrist is able to diagnose and treat mental illness with medication, while psychologists and therapists are not. Psychiatrists do not typically provide therapy services (although some may), while psychologists and therapists are able to provide talk therapy but do not prescribe medications nor assist in medication management. 

You might benefit from psychiatric care if:

  • You think you have a mental health problem and would like a diagnosis of what it is as well as the treatment options
  • Your mental health condition requires treatment with prescription medication
  • You are currently taking psychiatric medication for your mental health but would like to change the dose or are having side effects from the medication 
  • You are not receiving adequate diagnostic mental health care from your other physicians, such as a primary care doctor 
  • You require medication for behavioral health symptoms stemming from OCD, PTSD, ADHD, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, and/or others which a primary care physician may not be suitable to address 
  • You have been diagnosed with a mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia but want a second opinion about your condition
  • Any other mental health issues that may require diagnosis or medication management as part of the treatment plan 

What is the difference between an online psychiatrist and an in-person psychiatrist?

While an online psychiatrist can offer many of the same services as an in-person psychiatrist, there are some important differences. Both online psychiatrists and in-person psychiatrists are able to diagnose and treat mental health conditions and may offer treatment like cognitive therapy and prescription medications, which can include antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, mood stabilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. 

When choosing an online psychiatrist, you’ll be able to speak to your psychiatrist from anywhere that you have a stable internet connection, including the comfort of your own home. If you choose to see a psychiatrist in-person, you’ll have to visit your doctor’s office. 

Another key difference is that some online psychiatrists may not be able to prescribe controlled substances, depending on the laws surrounding telemedicine in your state. Controlled substances include medications like Ativan, Xanax, Adderall, and Ritalin that have a high potential for abuse and addiction. In some cases, your online psychiatrist may be able to work with your in-person primary care physician to help you get access to the medication that you need.

What services do online psychiatry companies offer?

Online psychiatry companies and online psychiatrists offer a wide range of mental health services, including messaging, video calls, voice calls, and tests. 

When setting up an initial consultation with an online psychiatrist, you’ll typically fill out a questionnaire regarding your reason for being seen, any medications you may be taking, your medical history, and other basic questions, similar to the intake forms you would complete at a doctor’s office. Depending on your medical history, an online psychiatrist may ask that you submit additional information, such as blood work or medical records from your general practitioner, prior to your appointment.

Appointments typically take place in a secure online portal that is hosted by your psychiatrist. Your first appointment will likely cover the basics, including your medical history, information regarding your current prescriptions, symptoms you are currently experiencing, and your reasons for seeking out psychiatric treatment. At the conclusion of your appointment, your psychiatrist will provide their recommendations for treatment, including any prescription medications, and a diagnosis, if appropriate.

Is online psychiatry safe and secure?

Privacy is an understandable concern when it comes to online psychiatry. After all, no one wants their medical history or details about their mental health to be made public. Fortunately, all licensed psychiatrists are required to abide by national and state regulations that protect the privacy of their patients, including HIPAA regulations, which cover telehealth data security. 

In addition to making sure that you choose to work with a certified psychiatrist who is bound by legal regulations, you also play a role in the security of your online psychiatry session. Online psychiatry sessions (as well as telemedicine appointments in general) should be conducted on a private, secure Wi-Fi connection rather than on public Wi-Fi or in a public place. Video conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime are not HIPAA compliant and are not designed to protect your privacy, so it’s best to stick with the portal used by your online psychiatrist.

What companies offer online psychiatry services?

Between the growing interest in telemedicine in general and the COVID-19 pandemic that pushed many nonessential health appointments to cancel face-to-face visits, there are more online psychiatry services available today than ever before.

 One thing to clarify about online mental health services is that not all online mental health services have psychiatrists on staff. Some of the most popular, including BetterHelp, offer therapy services but do not offer psychiatry services. If you need to see an online psychiatrist rather than a therapist, consider choosing one of the following options.

TalkSpace

TalkSpace is a popular online mental health provider that features therapy services and psychiatry services all in one place. Services are available for individuals, couples, and teens ages 13 and older. All of TalkSpace’s sessions are conducted via video, so you’ll need a strong internet connection. 

You’ll complete a short questionnaire and be matched to a psychiatrist that fits your needs and is licensed in your state by a Matching Agent. Appointments are booked no more than 48 hours in advance, and follow-up appointments are scheduled directly though your provider. TalkSpace is FSA/HSA approved, HIPAA compliant, and accepts insurance from a long list of partners. 

Patients are able to choose between a wide range of subscription plans that can be billed monthly, quarterly, or biannually, and a la carte live video sessions are also offered. Patients who prefer to have live sessions will need to choose one of the company’s premium or ultimate plans.

LiveHealth

LiveHealth Online might just be the perfect online provider for all of your telemedicine needs. In addition to offering psychiatry and psychology support, you can also access medical and allergy-related telemedicine support from thousands of board certified physicians. 

Telepsychiatry services are only available to patients ages 18 and older, and you may have to wait up to two weeks for an appointment, as appointments are not available on demand (as is the case with some other providers). 

However, one advantage of LiveHealth over some other online psychiatry platforms is that patients only have to pay for the sessions that they use, as the site doesn’t operate on a subscription model. Initial consultation's cost 175 dollars and follow up visits are 75 dollars, but your cost may be lower depending on your health insurance or your employer. Psychiatrists have appointment times available at convenient hours during the day, night, and weekends, so you’re sure to find one that fits your schedule.

Amwell

Another online telepsychiatry provider is Amwell, which specializes in providing mental health services. Visits are conducted via video calls either at your computer or via the Amwell app, which can be accessed on mobile devices. You can connect to board-certified psychiatrists 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, and enrolling is easy. 

Unlike some other online psychiatry providers, you’ll choose your own physician from a list, which is ideal for patients who are uncomfortable with the idea of someone else choosing their physician for them. Pricing for Amwell ranges from 279 dollars for a first appointment and 109 dollars for each follow up visit, and no subscription is required. Some patients may pay less if their health insurance or employer covers telepsychiatry visits. Patients are also able to receive talk therapy through Amwell.

Summary

With so many options available for finding an online psychiatrist, finding the right doctor and treatment plan for you is more convenient and affordable than ever before. If you have health insurance, make sure you check to see if online psychiatry visits are covered. 

TalkSpace, LiveHealth Online, and Amwell all offer convenient options for online counseling, whether it be psychiatric or psychological care that can help to get your mental health on the right track and get you feeling better than ever. If you don’t like your mental health professional, there are plenty more right at your fingertips.

Sources:

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/what-is-psychiatry-menu 

https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling 

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/24832