Objective: The authors conducted a review and meta-analysis of the literature comparing telepsychiatry with "in-person" psychiatric assessments.
Method: Approximately 380 studies on telepsychiatry published between 1956 and 2002 were identified using MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and cross-referenced bibliographies. Of these, 14 studies with an N > 10 compared telepsychiatry with in-person psychiatry (I-P) using objective assessment instruments or satisfaction instruments. Three of these studies compared high bandwidth (HB) with low bandwidth (LB) telepsychiatry.
Results: Fourteen studies of 500 patients met inclusion criteria and were included in the meta-analysis. Telepsychiatry was found to be similar to I-P for the studies using objective assessments. Effect sizes were on average quite small, suggesting no difference between telepsychiatry and I-P. Bandwidth was found to be a significant moderator. Three moderators were tested, effect sizes remained largely heterogeneous, and further analyses are needed to determine the direction of effect. There was no difference between I-P and telepsychiatry between the HB and LB groups, although there are anecdotal data suggesting that HB was slightly superior for assessments requiring detailed observation of subjects.
Conclusion: Out of a large telepsychiatry literature published over the past 40+ years, only a handful of studies have attempted to compare telepsychiatry with I-P directly using standardized assessment instruments that permit meaningful comparisons. However, in those studies, the current meta-analysis concludes there is no difference in accuracy or satisfaction between the two modalities. Over the next few years, we expect telepsychiatry to replace I-P in certain research and clinical situations.