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The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed healthcare significantly and telepsychiatry is now the primary means of treatment in some countries.
To compare the efficacy of telepsychiatry and face-to-face treatment.
A comprehensive meta-analysis comparing telepsychiatry with face-to-face treatment for psychiatric disorders. The primary outcome was the mean change in the standard symptom scale scores used for each psychiatric disorder. Secondary outcomes included all meta-analysable outcomes, such as all-cause discontinuation and safety/tolerability.
We identified 32 studies (n = 3592 participants) across 11 mental illnesses. Disease-specific analyses showed that telepsychiatry was superior to face-to-face treatment regarding symptom improvement for depressive disorders (k = 6 studies, n = 561; standardised mean difference s.m.d. = −0.325, 95% CI −0.640 to −0.011, P = 0.043), whereas face-to-face treatment was superior to telepsychiatry for eating disorder (k = 1, n = 128; s.m.d. = 0.368, 95% CI 0.018–0.717, P = 0.039). No significant difference was seen between telepsychiatry and face-to-face treatment when all the studies/diagnoses were combined (k = 26, n = 2290; P = 0.248). Telepsychiatry had significantly fewer all-cause discontinuations than face-to-face treatment for mild cognitive impairment (k = 1, n = 61; risk ratio RR = 0.552, 95% CI 0.312–0.975, P = 0.040), whereas the opposite was seen for substance misuse (k = 1, n = 85; RR = 37.41, 95% CI 2.356–594.1, P = 0.010). No significant difference regarding all-cause discontinuation was seen between telepsychiatry and face-to-face treatment when all the studies/diagnoses were combined (k = 27, n = 3341; P = 0.564).
Telepsychiatry achieved a symptom improvement effect for various psychiatric disorders similar to that of face-to-face treatment. However, some superiorities/inferiorities were seen across a few specific psychiatric disorders, suggesting that its efficacy may vary according to disease type.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine as a way to reduce COVID-19 infections was noted and consequently deregulated. However, the degree of telemedicine regulation varies from country to country, which may alter the widespread use of telemedicine. This study aimed to clarify the telepsychiatry regulations for each collaborating country/region before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We used snowball sampling within a global network of international telepsychiatry experts. Thirty collaborators from 17 different countries/regions responded to a questionnaire on barriers to the use and implementation of telepsychiatric care, including policy factors such as regulations and reimbursement at the end of 2019 and as of May 2020.
Thirteen of 17 regions reported a relaxation of regulations due to the pandemic; consequently, all regions surveyed stated that telepsychiatry was now possible within their public healthcare systems. In some regions, restrictions on prescription medications allowed via telepsychiatry were eased, but in 11 of the 17 regions, there were still restrictions on prescribing medications via telepsychiatry. Lower insurance reimbursement amounts for telepsychiatry consultations v. in-person consultations were reevaluated in four regions, and consequently, in 15 regions telepsychiatry services were reimbursed at the same rate (or higher) than in-person consultations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our results confirm that, due to COVID-19, the majority of countries surveyed are altering telemedicine regulations that had previously restricted the spread of telemedicine. These findings provide information that could guide future policy and regulatory decisions, which facilitate greater scale and spread of telepsychiatry globally.
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