Telepsychiatry comes to campus, counseling services to potentially see relief

DeKALB — Northwestern Medicine is prioritizing students’ mental health by implementing a new convenient therapy process known as telepsychiatry, providing students a method to cut wait times typical when meeting with a psychiatrist.

Northwestern Medicine is teaming up with Regroup Therapy Inc. in an attempt to solve a nation-wide concern regarding the lack of mental health specialists by providing telepsychiatry as an alternative method of treatment, striving for shorter wait times for students.

Telemedicine is the process of providing health care through technology, allowing specialists to assist patients from a distance. Telepsychiatry, a subset of telemedicine, provides an assortment of different services relating to mental health care. 

Therapy, group therapy, psychiatric evaluations and medication management are some examples of the services offered through telepsychiatry. Medical care is provided through telecommunications technology, such as videoconferencing, according to the American Psychiatric Association website.

Cassandra Kamp, deputy speaker of the SA Senate, said implementing telepsychiatry at NIU can provide students with the help they need, when they need it.

Kamp said, in her experience, the wait to see a psychiatrist through counseling and consultation services can take up to two months or longer, but with telepsychiatry, the wait can be cut down to two weeks.

Kamp said there is a stigma with mental health, and not talking about it leads to issues dealing with it. She said there are many students who need mental health treatment and are not able to receive help due to the lack of resources.

Kamp said it is important to ensure students’ needs are met and allocating more funds to these issues needs to be a priority.

“We can sit here and offer students a bunch of resources [on] how to be a successful student, but it’s really important to also be a successful individual,” Kamp said. “We don’t really talk about the mental and physical health aspects that go into that, and having this service available is helping push toward the individual needs that go into making students successful in all areas.”

Sarah Real, practice administrator of Northwestern Medicine Regional Medical Group, said the reason telepsychiatry has been implemented is because of a nationwide shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health providers. She said the recruitment process for hiring new doctors can be lengthy.

Real said telepsychiatry helps solve the issue of the lengthy hiring process and provides valuable benefits to students.

“One benefit is the shorter wait times for NIU students to see a psychiatrist,” Real said. “Telepsychiatry is convenient to the students, as they don’t have to go to more than one place for appointments.”

Senior accounting major Jenny Bernal said she understands the importance of providing a service like telepsychiatry for students who don’t have the time to meet in person.

She said she would not personally use the service due to the aspect of technology.

“Personally, I feel technology has a lot to do with distractions, and this service, in a way, can be reinforcing it,” she said.

Pat Kimm, senior middle-level teaching and learning major, said he doesn’t see any issues with using technology as a means of therapy and would use the service if he needed it.

“I know it might not be for everyone, but I think it’s great NIU is offering another way for students to get help if they need it,” Kimm said.

Real said the telepsychiatry is being offered through a secure Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act [HIPAA] compliant platform to ensure patient confidentiality.

Real said the sessions will be held at the NIU Health and Services office and will give students access to a board-certified psychiatrist without having to leave campus.

Real said the physician will meet with the patients through an iPad, and the scheduled appointment hours will be Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Initial consultations will run for an hour and follow-up appointments will be 30-minute sessions.

Real said Regroup Therapy Inc. screened potential candidates and conducted the initial round of interviews for the psychiatrist position. Following the screening, Northwestern Medicine organization hired Dr. Emil Vakar as the practicing physician.

“After careful consideration, we felt Vakar would be an excellent addition to our practice and would be able to make a meaningful connection with our patients,” Real said.

Providing students with full medical care is extremely important, Real said, and telepsychiatry will help provide a valuable service.

“For many patients, providing mental health services is a vital part of caring for the whole person,” Real said. “We feel the coordination of care between our medical director and Regroup will produce better outcomes for our patients and their overall well-being.”