Telepsychiatry and the meaning of in-person contact: a preliminary ethical appraisal

Med Health Care Philos. 2009 Nov;12(4):469-76. doi: 10.1007/s11019-009-9214-y. Epub 2009 Jul 21.


Pioneering researchers claim that telepsychiatry presents the possibility of improving both the quality and quantity of patient care for populations in general as well as for those in rural and remote locations. The prevalence of, and literature on telepsychiatry has increased dramatically in the last decade, covering all aspects of research endeavors. However, little can be found on the topic of ethics in telepsychiatry. Using various clinical scenarios we may provide insight into the moral challenge in telepsychiatry-the lack of in-person contact. The difficulty is to articulate what the significance of in-person contact is and further, its meaning in the therapeutic relationship between the patient and the physician. Using the personalist perspective and related philosophical approaches we may sketch an idea of the patient as person, existentially considered as a relational and bodily human being. By applying Brennan's model for health technology assessment we may evaluate the morally troubling aspect of telepsychiatry-a lack of in-person contact-on this philosophical sketch of the person. This consideration is crucial when developing policies to guide the use of telepsychiatry in order to maintain the quality of care.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Psychiatry*
  • Telemedicine / ethics*