Feeling anxious? Why online therapy might work better than an office visit

For CNET's Now What series, telemedicine expert Dr. Peter Yellowlees explains why telemedicine for mental health is better for patients and doctors, pandemic or not.

Sarah Mitroff Managing Editor
Sarah Mitroff is a Managing Editor for CNET, overseeing our health, fitness and wellness section. Throughout her career, she's written about mobile tech, consumer tech, business and startups for Wired, MacWorld, PCWorld, and VentureBeat.
Expertise Tech, Health, Lifestyle
Sarah Mitroff
2 min read

If you ask Dr. Peter Yellowlees, professor of psychiatry at UC Davis, about the future of medicine, he'll tell you that it's online. "The new normal is that people are going to increasingly obtain health care through the internet," he says. Rather than sitting in a waiting room, and then going into a physical exam, we will eventually be more likely to meet with a doctor through a video call.

In the early 1990s, long before Zoom and FaceTime existed, Dr. Yellowless used video conferencing to meet with and treat patients in Australia, so it's safe to say he's one of the early pioneers of telemedicine. Though the technology has changed, today there are many companies and providers offering the same experience.

Dr. Yellowlees likens telemedicine to house calls, a practice that largely died out last century. While the experience isn't exactly the same, most of the benefits of house calls still remain. "We're seeing people in their own environments [and] it actually improves the relationships we have with them," he says. 


With telemedicine, he argues, you make the experience of seeing a doctor less inconvenient and intimidating because the patient doesn't have to travel and is in their own space where they feel comfortable. That can be especially helpful for patients who deal with anxiety, agoraphobia or post traumatic stress disorder, says Dr. Yellowlees.

In the age of COVID-19, many of the barriers to telemedicine have come down. Doctors face many privacy regulations that can make telemedicine difficult, but since the start of the pandemic, Dr. Yellowlees explains, there have been massive regulatory changes to address that.

There are still privacy and security regulations in place, which include using secure messaging systems and taking measures to protect a patient's information. But during the pandemic, the US government isn't legally going after doctors and medical practices that aren't using technologies that are fully compliant with HIPAA, the federal privacy law, says Dr. Yellowlees. That makes it easier for doctors to connect with patients online to provide immediate care, without needing to invest in an entirely new system to do so.

Dr. Yellowlees has plenty more to say on the topic. Watch the interview above for the full story.

Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal."  There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.