Health IT, Telemedicine

MDLive says it’s first to offer telepsychiatry nationwide

MDLive, which started in 2009, now claims more than 1,300 behavioral health practitioners in its network of online healthcare professionals.

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Telehealth provider MDLive said Thursday that it has become the first company to offer telepsychiatry and other virtual mental health services in all 50 states. The Sunrise, Florida-based company recently added practitioners in Mississippi and Vermont to fill out the map.

“It’s national now,” said MDLive Chief Behavioral Health Officer Dr. John Sharp. “In a way, it’s not earth-shaking because we’re all going to everywhere soon.” Appropriately, Sharp, who has psychiatry practices of his own in Boston and Los Angeles, spoke to MedCity News by phone from JFK International Airport in New York as he prepared to fly to the West Coast.

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“I think it’s going to be one of the new norms,” Sharp said. “You can’t imagine banking without ATMs or online services anymore.”

MDLive, which started in 2009, now claims more than 1,300 behavioral health practitioners in its network of online healthcare professionals. “We had to go scouting around,” Sharp said. “We had to get board-certified, licensed doctors” in every state.

Indeed, with the exception of physicians employed by the federal government, state licensure has long remained a hurdle to wider deployment of telehealth and telemedicine. A physician providing remote medical services generally must be licensed in the state where the patient is located, though the situation has improved somewhat in recent years.

“It’s been changing in the right direction,” Sharp noted. “Most states now are making it easier,” he added, despite some notable exceptions.

Big states like California, New York, Illinois and Florida do not participate in the Uniform Application for Physician State Licensure program, for example. In 2015, Texas actually tightened its rules on telemedicine, prompting a lawsuit from another telehealth company, Teladoc.

Like other tele-mental health providers, MDLive sees itself as way to fill in gaps. According to the company, 80 million Americans live in an area with a shortage of mental health services and that the average wait time for a new, in-person appointment with a behavioral health specialist is about 30 days.

“It’s just not in rural areas,” Sharp noted.

UPDATE: An MDLive spokeswoman said via email that telepsychiatry technically is not available everywhere in the U.S. due to quirks in state laws. In Arkansas, for example, psychiatrists and other licensed practitioners may offer virtual therapy sessions, but may not prescribe medications remotely, the spokeswoman wrote.

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