Texas Doctors Experimenting with Telemedicine for Mental Health Patients

In  an era of increased awareness of, and concern for, mental health  issues, one Texas doctor says re-writing the rules for practitioners  will lead to improved "distance" treatment of patients in need of  psychiatric help, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Austin  psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Truong has authored a proposal to align  federal and state laws, and regulatory rules such as those issued by the  U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, to support and streamline mental  health diagnosis and prescriptive treatment through "telemedicine," also  known as "telehealth."

Telemedicine  allows a physician in one location to examine, diagnose and recommend  treatment for a patient in another area over a video link. Doctors have  for years employed the method for routine and even surgical  consultation. But Truong says many mental health care practitioners are  reluctant to "e-prescribe" and run afoul of often conflicting legal  mandates.

"One  of the barriers to having telehealth more widely adopted,": says  Truong, "is the ambiguity of federal and DEA laws that have been  written.

"This  ambiguity has led to a lot of doctors feeling nervous and unwilling to  prescribe controlled substances," via telemedical portals, she adds.

Truong  says consistent rules for mental health practitioners will improve  treatment for patients in remote or under-served areas of Texas where  there are no qualified professionals. 

Lawmakers  in Washington, D.C., she says, can look to Texas legislation for  consistent rules that protect psychiatrists and other medical  professionals who reach out online to patients suffering from  psychological or mental disorders.

A  34-member Texas Medical Association delegation to this week's annual  American Medical Association Conference in Chicago is seeking AMA  endorsement of Truong's idea and its adoption as a part of the national  group's upcoming legislative agenda.

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