Appropriateness of Telemedicine Versus In-Person Care: A Qualitative Exploration of Psychiatrists' Decision Making

Psychiatr Serv. 2022 Aug 1;73(8):849-855. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2022 Jan 26.


Objective: With widespread adoption of telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, psychiatrists must determine which visits are best conducted via telemedicine versus in person. Although some telepsychiatry guidelines and best practices have been developed, the literature has not described how psychiatrists make decisions about offering different care modalities. The authors explored how psychiatrists decide whether telemedicine is appropriate for a given patient.

Methods: From June 25 to August 4, 2021, the authors conducted semistructured interviews with 20 outpatient psychiatrists. The authors used a critical incident technique and clinical vignettes to identify conscious and unconscious factors that influence psychiatrists' decision to offer telemedicine. Using inductive thematic analysis, the authors analyzed interview data.

Results: Psychiatrists perceived that most patients are good candidates for telemedicine visits in the context of hybrid care models. Patient preference and situational factors, such as access to private spaces, rather than any particular diagnosis or patient demographic characteristic, drove telemedicine versus in-person care. Psychiatrists described numerous factors affecting their decision to offer telemedicine, and they were driven to try telemedicine and adjust as needed to "meet patients where they are" and to improve engagement in care. Psychiatrists reported using telemedicine as a bargaining chip in negotiations with patients, leveraging the offer of telemedicine to improve treatment attendance and adherence.

Conclusions: This detailed assessment of how psychiatrists choose different care modalities can inform clinical practice guidelines and reimbursement policies that often mandate in-person visits. The results show that psychiatrists did not perceive intermittent in-person visits as essential for high-quality care.

Keywords: Behavioral Health; COVID-19; Decision-Making; Telehealth; Telemedicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Psychiatry*
  • Telemedicine* / methods