Background: The feasibility and acceptability of telepsychiatry for low-income Hispanic patients with major depression were assessed.
Subjects and methods: In total, 167 adult Hispanic patients with major depression recruited from a community health center (CHC) were randomly assigned to receive psychiatry services through a video Webcam (WEB) (n=80) or to treatment as usual (TAU) (n=87). The WEB condition consisted of monthly telepsychiatry sessions at the CHC for 6 months provided by one of two Hispanic psychiatrists using an online virtual meeting program. TAU patients received their care from their providers. Acceptability was assessed by comparing appointment keeping for primary care versus telepsychiatry, patients' perceived working alliance with their provider, visit satisfaction, and antidepressant use. Feasibility was assessed using depression outcomes, functional days (unproductive or days lost), and whether WEB and TAU patients differed in their appointment keeping.
Results: WEB patients did not differ in the proportion of completed primary care versus telepsychiatry appointments and rated their working alliance with the psychiatrist and their visit satisfaction significantly higher than the TAU patients with their provider. Significantly more WEB than TAU patients used antidepressants. Although depression severity decreased faster among WEB than TAU patients, no differences were found in the overall depression score. WEB and TAU patients did not differ in the number of days that were lost or unproductive due to depression. Although WEB and TAU patients reported being willing to pay for mental health services provided by the CHC, almost proportionately twice as many WEB patients were willing to pay for telepsychiatry.
Conclusions: Results show that for low-income depressed Hispanic patients, telepsychiatry service for depression is acceptable, although its feasibility is questionable. The benefits of telemedicine were discussed in terms of improving patient care in ways other than directly providing services to the patients.