Ines Hungerbüehler, PhD; Leandro Valiengo, PhD; Alexandre A Loch, PhD; Wulf Rössler, MD, MSc; Wagner F Gattaz, PhD.
JMIR Ment Health 2016;3(3):e36
Background: There is a tremendous opportunity for innovative mental health care solutions such as psychiatric care through videoconferencing to increase the number of people who have access to quality care. However, studies are needed to generate empirical evidence on the use of psychiatric outpatient care via videoconferencing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries and clinically unsupervised settings.
Objective: The objective of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness and feasibility of home-based treatment for mild depression through psychiatric consultations via videoconferencing.
Methods: A randomized controlled trial with a 6- and 12-month follow-up including adults with mild depression treated in an ambulatory setting was conducted. In total, 107 participants were randomly allocated to the videoconferencing intervention group (n=53) or the face-to-face group (F2F; n=54). The groups did not differ with respect to demographic characteristics at baseline. The F2F group completed monthly follow-up consultations in person. The videoconferencing group received monthly follow-up consultations with a psychiatrist through videoconferencing at home. At baseline and after 6 and 12 months, in-person assessments were conducted with all participants. Clinical outcomes (severity of depression, mental health status, medication course, and relapses), satisfaction with treatment, therapeutic relationship, treatment adherence (appointment compliance and dropouts), and medication adherence were assessed.
Results: The severity of depression decreased significantly over the 12-month follow-up in both the groups. There was a significant difference between groups regarding treatment outcomes throughout the follow-up period, with better results in the videoconferencing group. There were 4 relapses in the F2F group and only 1 in the videoconferencing group. No significant differences between groups regarding mental health status, satisfaction with treatment, therapeutic relationship, treatment adherence, or medication compliance were found. However, after 6 months, the rate of dropouts was significantly higher in the F2F group (18.5% vs 5.7% in the videoconferencing group, P<.05).
Conclusions: Psychiatric treatment through videoconferencing in clinically unsupervised settings can be considered feasible and as effective as standard care (in-person treatment) for depressed outpatients with respect to clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction, therapeutic relationship, treatment adherence, and medication compliance. These results indicate the potential of telepsychiatry to extend access to psychiatric care to remote and underserved populations.