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Choi S, Wilcock AD, Busch AB, et al. Association of Characteristics of Psychiatrists With Use of Telemental Health Visits in the Medicare Population. JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(6):654–657. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0052
Individuals in many regions of the United States experience inadequate availability of specialty mental health care.1 Telemental health, the use of video visits between a patient and a remote mental health specialist, may address these access barriers. Telemental health has grown rapidly but unevenly across the nation.2 Little is known about the characteristics of psychiatrists associated with the use of this technology. Research has examined characteristics of physicians who adopt other technologies such as electronic health records and diagnostic or therapeutic procedures; in general, such physicians are younger, male, US medical school graduates, and work in larger practices.3,4 Among psychiatrists who care for Medicare beneficiaries, we compared the characteristics of psychiatrists who do and do not use telemental health.
Using a 20% random sample of 2014-2016 Medicare fee-for-service claims, we identified 28 567 psychiatrists who billed for 1 or more evaluation and management or outpatient consultation codes: 99201-99499, 96150-4, 90832-4, 90836-8, 96116, 90839-90840, 90845-7, 90791-2, 90785, G0425-G0427, G0459, G0406-8, and G0442. Given the 20% sample, the number of visit estimates was multiplied by 5. Using practice zip code, we categorized the practice location with US Department of Agriculture rural-urban commuting area codes and, using tax identifier, we categorized practices by their size and composition. The Harvard Medical School institutional review board approved the study and granted a waiver of informed consent.
Telemental health psychiatrists were those with at least 1 visit with a telehealth modifier code GT/GQ or telemedicine-specific visit (G0425-G0427). High-use psychiatrists were those with more than 100 telemental health visits. Using national practitioner identifiers, we linked these data to Doximity data to determine sex, years of practice, medical school type, and publication of a peer-reviewed publication (as a marker of an academic physician). Doximity is a comprehensive physician database that is built using self-report, public data, and data from collaborating medical schools.5 Controlling for state of practice, we used multivariable logistic regression to identify physician characteristics associated with use of telemental health. We used multiple imputation to address missing values.
Among the 28 567 psychiatrists who provided care during this period, 1544 (5.4%) delivered 377 440 telemental health visits. Of the psychiatrists who provided telemental health visits, 622 (40.2%) provided 100 or more such visits. Among all psychiatrists in a state, the fraction providing telemental health was highest in North Dakota (24.2%) and Wyoming (19.6%) and lowest in Massachusetts (0.1%) (Figure).
Compared with psychiatrists who did not use telemental health (n = 27 023), psychiatrists who did (n = 1544) were in practice for less time since medical school (0-19 years of experience: 26.9%  vs 22.8% ; 20-30 years of experience: 29.9%  vs 23.1% ; 31-40 years of experience: 21.5%  vs 23.7% ; and >41 years of experience: 12.8%  vs 22.4%, 6048]; P < .001), were less likely to have peer-reviewed publications (21.2%  vs 25.0% ; P < .001), were less likely to be in solo practice (9.1%  vs 23.6% ; P < .001); and were more likely to practice in rural locations (24.0%  vs 6.0% 1608]; P < .001) (Table). Though psychiatrists in solo practice were less likely to use telemental health, there was no consistent association between size or composition of practice and telemental health use. These differences were consistent with the multivariate regression.
The variation across states in the fraction of psychiatrists providing telemental health is notable. In some states, less than 1% of psychiatrists provide telemental health visits, while in other states approximately 20% provide telemental health visits. This variation might be driven by needs of the local community and state laws and regulations governing reimbursement of telemedicine and licensure.
Our analysis is limited to psychiatrists who provide care in the Medicare fee-for-service program and may not be a representative sample of all psychiatrists.6
Consistent with characteristics of physicians who adopt other technological innovations, those who provide telemental health tend to be younger. However, we did not find an association between uptake and physician sex, location of medical school, or type of practice. One notable predictor associated with use of telemental health visits was practicing in a rural community. Possibly these psychiatrists are more aware of geographic access barriers and therefore apt to adopt this technology.
Accepted for Publication: December 12, 2018.
Corresponding Author: Ateev Mehrotra, MD, MPH, Harvard Medical School, Department of Health Care Policy, 180 Longwood Ave, Boston, MA 02115 (email@example.com).
Published Online: March 20, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.0052
Author Contributions: Dr Mehrotra had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
Concept and design: Choi, Busch, Uscher-Pines, Mehrotra.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: Choi, Wilcock, Huskamp, Uscher-Pines, Shi.
Drafting of the manuscript: Choi.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Choi, Wilcock, Mehrotra.
Obtained funding: Huskamp, Mehrotra.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Busch, Huskamp, Uscher-Pines, Mehrotra.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Choi reported grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) during the conduct of the study. Dr Busch reported grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) during the conduct of the study. Dr Huskamp reported grants from NIMH during the conduct of the study. Dr Shi reported grants from NIH during the conduct of the study. Dr Mehrotra reported grants from NIH during the conduct of the study. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: The study was supported by grant R01 MH112829 from the NIMH.
Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.
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