Health IT, Telemedicine

American Well moves into telepsychiatry, hires behavioral health VP

The telepsychiatry service launched this week in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Carolina. It should be nationwide by early next year.

Psychiatry on Amwell

American Well has joined the growing field of telepsychiatry, rounding out the telemedicine company’s offerings in remote behavioral health services.

American Well’s Online Care Group now includes psychiatrists, who can see adult patients and prescribe medications through the company’s Amwell video app. Physicians still can’t write prescriptions for controlled substances, but American Well is working on certification of its technology to facilitate that, said Zereana Jess-Huff, vice president of behavioral health.

As part of the expansion, Boston-based American Well recently hired Jess-Huff. She had been CEO of the Maryland market for Beacon Health Solutions, a payer-focused outsourcing firm.

The telepsychiatry service launched this week in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Carolina. American Well said it would add more states monthly until telepsychiatry was nationwide by early next year.

American Well will mostly call on psychiatrists for medication management rather than talk therapy, since the Online Care Group already has about 400 behavioral health professionals to handle those roles, Jess-Huff said.

Zereana Jess-Hoff

Zereana Jess-Huff

“There’s a huge shortage of psychiatrists, [across America],” said Jess-Huff, who has a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy and counseling. “We want to make sure we deploy our resources as efficiently as possible.”

American Well got into behavioral health in 2014 after noticing that more than 40 percent of Amwell users seeing urgent care physicians online had some behavioral health issue, primarily depression or anxiety, according to Jess-Huff.

All practitioners in the Online Care Group can refer patients in eligible states to psychiatrists and manage those people’s care via Amwell. “They can communicate, see each other’s notes and coordinate care on our platform,” Jess-Huff said.

While others offer telepsychiatry services — fierce American Well rival Teladoc, startups 1DocWay, Forefront Telecare and Regroup Therapy, plus some academic medical centers — Jess-Huff believes the sector isn’t well-known.

“Across my field as a whole, it’s a very novel concept,” she said. “As this becomes less novel, we’re going to see more and more doctors gravitating to this.”

Indeed, American Well has tried to sell telemedicine as a lifestyle choice for healthcare professionals, leaning heavily on physician social network Doximity.

Jess-Hoff recalled one patient she had about a decade ago who turned out to be a hoarder. She did not realize this, though, until the patient brought in photos of her home to give Jess-Huff insight into this person’s life.

“I wished I could have ported into the patient’s home,” Jess-Huff said. Telemedicine for behavioral health “brings the doctor to the patient’s home.”

Photos: American Well