Adapting an outpatient psychiatric clinic to telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic: A practice perspective

Farzan Sasangohar, Major Bradshaw, Marianne Carlson, James Flack, Chris Fowler, William H. Orme, Benjamin L. Weinstein, Bita A. Kash, Alok Madan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


As the demand for telepsychiatry increases during the COVID-19 pandemic, the strengths and challenges of telepsychiatry implementation must be articulated to improve clinical practices in the long term. Currently, observations within US contexts are lacking; therefore, we report on the rapid implementation of telepsychiatry and workflow experiences in a psychiatric practice based within a large health care system in southeast Texas with a national catchment area. We discuss the logistics of the implementation, including modes of communication, scheduling, coordination, and capacity; the psychological effects of web-based services, including both the loss of the physical therapeutic environment and the unique interpersonal dynamics experienced in the virtual environment; and postadoption patterns of engagement with our services and with other clinical functions affected by the rapid adaptation to telemedicine. Our art therapy group programming serves as an applied case study, demonstrating the value of a well-managed web-based program (eg, patients were receptive and well-engaged, and they appreciated the continuity of accessible service) as well as the challenges (eg, the need for backup plans and technological fallbacks, managing interruptions and telecommunication learning curves, and working around the difference in resources for art and music therapy between a well-stocked clinical setting versus clients' home spaces). We conclude from our experience that the overall strengths of telepsychiatry include receptive and well-engaged responses from patients as well as the expansion of boundaries, which provides a directly contextualized view into patients' home lives. Challenges and corresponding recommendations include the need for more careful safety planning for high-risk patients; maintaining professional boundaries in the newly informal virtual setting; designing the physical space to both frame the patient encounter and maintain work-life balance for the therapist; allowing for delays and interruptions (including an initial acclimation session); and preserving interprofessional care team collaboration when the physical locations that normally facilitate such encounters are not accessible. We believe that careful observations of the strengths and challenges of telepsychiatry during this pandemic will better inform practices that are considering telepsychiatry adoption both within pandemic contexts and more broadly thereafter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number22523
Pages (from-to)e22523
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Pandemic
  • Perspective
  • Prevention
  • Preventive psychiatry
  • Psychiatry
  • SARS virus
  • Telehealth
  • Telemedicine
  • Telemedicine/organization & administration
  • Pandemics
  • Humans
  • Coronavirus Infections/epidemiology
  • Ambulatory Care Facilities/organization & administration
  • Texas/epidemiology
  • Outpatients
  • Pneumonia, Viral/epidemiology
  • Betacoronavirus
  • Health Resources
  • Communication
  • Delivery of Health Care/organization & administration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics


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