BETHESDA - Thomas Perrone had seen first-hand the challenges of trying to meet the mental health care needs of residents in rural communities such as St. Clairsville, Woodsfield, Cadiz and Bethesda.
Perrone, executive director of North Point Behavioral Health in Bethesda, also was familiar with the shortage of psychiatrists throughout the country, especially in the local area.
That's why Perrone is a believer in North Point's new telepsychiatry program, which connects patients to some of the top psychiatrists in the country through video conferencing technology.
The groundbreaking program was launched at North Point in July and has been well-received by patients in the four-county area.
"We are in a rural area and don't often have the ability to bring in psychiatric experts in the more traditional sense," Perrone said. "We are excited about the possibility of having experts to meet the needs of our different patient populations through the telepsychiatry program. Our community can now have child and adolescent psychiatrists, geriatric specialists and substance abuse experts at our fingertips."
Nationally renowned Dr. Jim Varrell is medical director of InSight Telepsychiatry, the company that provides the telepsychiatry services.
In more than 13 years of practicing telepsychiatry and managing a team of telepsychiatrists, Varrell said he found almost all patients have been receptive to the care and quickly adapt to seeing a doctor on a video screen.
"There is a national shortage of psychiatrists and an unfortunate increase of mental health issues in America," Varrell said. "Telepsychiatry is an excellent way to address parts of these problems in underserved communities."
Perrone expects to expand the program to Jefferson County by the end of August and in the Woodsfield area by the end of the year.
"Other professionals in the community are interested in the program as well," Perrone said. "We are currently discussing the benefits to providing this service with our area nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. This alleviates the stress of the patient needing to leave the facility for their ongoing psychiatric care and assists the facility in less transportation issues."