Telehealth: A Top Topic at Quality Talks

Psychiatrist Peter Yellowlees’ presentation about telemedicine received some of the highest audience ratings at NCQA’s Quality Talks last month.

It’s worth asking why.

Part of the reason is the messenger: Yellowlees knows how to hold an audience’s attention. His accent intrigues American ears. Is it… British? Australian? (Yes. He was raised in Britain and practiced in Australia for years.)

Peter Yellowlees, MD, Chief Wellness Officer, UC Davis Health
Peter Yellowlees, MD, Chief Wellness Officer, UC Davis Health

But we think the main reason for the high ratings is Yellowlees’ message.

You’d expect him to be “pro” telemedicine, of course, being a past president of the American Telehealth Association, and he’s used the technology for years in his psychiatry practice.

Still, some things were unexpected:

  • Yellowlees dedicated his entire 16-minute talk to telemedicine. That was appropriate, considering the pandemic has sparked a surge of interest in telemedicine.
  • Telepsychiatry’s advantages. Yellowlees identified advantages that psychiatric telemedicine offers over face-to-face care.

Some advantages result from removing the stress that’s common in face-to-face encounters.

Others come from telemedicine’s unique benefits to provider-patient encounters. For example, telemedicine lets patients participate in therapy in what might be their most private setting—their car. This also means no travel time, reducing the number of missed appointments.

And if a patient participates in a telepsychiatry session from home, an astute therapist can ask for a virtual tour. What a therapist sees and hears in a patient’s home can reveal more than the patient might convey in an office visit.

  • Therapeutic and interpersonal upsides. Yellowlees cited therapeutic and interpersonal situations that lend themselves more to telepsychiatry than to face-to-face counseling.

A vivid example: counseling rape survivors. Many survivors prefer talking to therapists of the opposite sex by phone or by teleconference, rather than face-to-face. They are comforted by the psychological and physical distance between patient and provider. That’s a use-case many Quality Talks viewers hadn’t thought of.

Whether you’re a longtime user or provider of telehealth services—or whether the pandemic has plunged you into the world of telehealth all at once—check out Peter’s presentation. Or watch his post-talk Q&A.

p.s. The downside to hearing only about telemedicine is that our audience didn’t learn about Yellowlees’ other focus as a researcher and author: physician stress and suicide. We’d like to have him back, post-pandemic, to cover that grim and compelling topic.