Telehealth-Supported Decision-making Psychiatric Care for Suicidal Ideation: Longitudinal Observational Study

JMIR Form Res. 2022 Sep 30;6(9):e37746. doi: 10.2196/37746.


Background: Suicide is a leading cause of death in the United States, and suicidal ideation (SI) is a significant precursor and risk factor for suicide.

Objective: This study aimed to examine the impact of a telepsychiatric care platform on changes in SI over time and remission, as well as to investigate the relationship between various demographic and medical factors on SI and SI remission.

Methods: Participants included 8581 US-based adults (8366 in the treatment group and 215 in the control group) seeking treatment for depression, anxiety, or both. The treatment group included patients who had completed at least 12 weeks of treatment and had received a prescription for at least one psychiatric medication during the study period. Providers prescribed psychiatric medications for each patient during their first session and received regular data on participants. They also received decision support at treatment onset via the digital platform, which leveraged an empirically derived proprietary precision-prescribing algorithm to give providers real-time care guidelines. Participants in the control group consisted of individuals who completed the initial enrollment data and completed surveys at baseline and 12 weeks but did not receive care.

Results: Greater feelings of hopelessness, anhedonia, and feeling bad about oneself were most significantly correlated (r=0.24-0.37) with SI at baseline. Sleep issues and feeling tired or having low energy, although significant, had lower correlations with SI (r=0.13-0.14). In terms of demographic variables, advancing age and education were associated with less SI at baseline (r=-0.16) and 12 weeks (r=-0.10) but less improvement over time (r=-0.12 and -0.11, respectively). Although not different at baseline, the SI expression was evident in 34.4% (74/215) of the participants in the control group and 12.32% (1031/8366) of the participants in the treatment group at 12 weeks. Although the participants in the treatment group improved over time regardless of various demographic variables, participants in the control group with less education worsened over time, after controlling for age and depression severity. A model incorporating the treatment group, age, sex, and 8-item Patient Health Questionnaire scores was 77% accurate in its classification of complete remission. Those in the treatment group were 4.3 times more likely (odds ratio 4.31, 95% CI 2.88-6.44) to have complete SI remission than those in the control group. Female participants and those with advanced education beyond high school were approximately 1.4 times more likely (odds ratio 1.38, 95% CI 1.18-1.62) to remit than their counterparts.

Conclusions: The results highlight the efficacy of an antidepressant intervention in reducing SI, in this case administered via a telehealth platform and with decision support, as well as the importance of considering covariates, or subpopulations, when considering SI. Further research and refinement, ideally via randomized controlled trials, are needed.

Keywords: anxiety; decision support; decision-making; demographic; depression; depressive disorder; digital health; eHealth; mental health; psychiatric care; psychiatric medication; psychiatry; suicidal ideation; suicide; telehealth; telemedicine.