Telehealth has made strides in the medical community over the past few years -- especially since the start of the pandemic. Patients no longer need to meet in person for quick follow-up appointments and can now receive treatment and medication from the comfort of their homes. Healthcare providers can now jump on a video or phone call to meet their patients' needs.
The same is true for mental health professionals, who have seen significant demand for telepsychiatry services. Psychiatrists can now see patients and prescribe medicine online.
What is a psychiatrist?
Before deciding whether a psychiatrist is right for you, a distinction needs to be made between the terms "psychologist" and "psychiatrist." Psychologists are mental health professionals who provide psychological counseling (such as therapy) but are unable to prescribe medication. On the other hand, psychiatrists specialize in the treatment and diagnosis of mental health disorders and can prescribe medication like antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, stimulates, antipsychotics or mood stabilizers. While both are highly skilled and trained, only psychiatrists are medical doctors.
If you require medication along with counseling, you may have to see both a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
Is online psychiatry effective?
Online psychiatrists are best for those with busy schedules. They cut out travel time, uncomfortable waiting rooms and according to research, may even cost less than traditional in-person psychiatry. That sounds all positive, but is it as effective? The same study concluded that "telepsychiatry is a feasible and acceptable approach," especially for young people and vulnerable and underserved communities.
We've rounded up a curated list of the best online psychiatry platforms based on affordability, accessibility, convenience and level of professionalism.
Talkspace starts off our list of the best online psychiatry services. The app-based company provides medication management for those with anxiety, depression, insomnia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Starting services is easy. Take a quick assessment to determine the right psychiatrist for you and answer questions regarding insurance, location and gender preference of a provider. Talkspace will then take up to 48 hours to match you with a licensed psychiatrist or nurse practitioner.
An initial session is $249, and any follow-up sessions afterward are $125. Bundles for new clients are also available, with an initial session and one follow-up appointment starting at $365, three follow-up appointments at $565 and six follow-up appointments at $849.
Pros of Talkspace:
- Clients with out-of-network benefits can submit claims and get reimbursed for about 50 to 90% of the cost
- Live video sessions are available through the web or on the app for Android or Apple
- If you don't like your initial provider, you can switch to another at no cost
Cons of Talkspace:
- Talkspace only accepts Premera, Cigna, Gatorcare and Optum insurance plans
- Medication delivery is only available if your insurance allows it
- Individuals under the age of 18 can not use Talkspace's services
Short for "American well," Amwell is a telehealth service based out of Boston, MA. The nationwide company prescribes medication for those with anxiety, bipolar disorder, cognitive disorder, depression, eating disorders, insomnia, OCD and PTSD.
One of the best parts of Amwell is its ability to collaborate with your primary physician and other providers. You will never have to pay for duplicate prescriptions or tests, and your primary care physician will always be in the loop.
Sign-ups are always free. Amwell then allows you to browse its providers' personal biographies, education and experience before you choose the right one for you. Finally, schedule your appointments online and talk with your psychiatrist via video.
The initial 45-minute session is $279, and each 15-minute follow-up session is $109.
Pros of Amwell:
- Amwell accepts a wide range of insurance providers
- Psychiatrists are available weekends and evenings
- You can choose your psychiatrist from a wide range of options
Cons of Amwell:
- Amwell is unable to prescribe controlled substances (such as Adderall) but will give recommendations to your primary care physician
- It may take up to two weeks to match with a psychiatrist and book an appointment
- Amwell doesn't see patients who are younger than 18
One of the first online telehealth companies, Teladoc has a long history of prescribing medicine for both general illness (such as cold and flu, allergies and sinus infections) and mental health. The company helps people with addiction, anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD and others. It also has the most flexible scheduling of the services on this list.
After signing up, you will be asked to fill out a questionnaire as well as your medical history. Then, you can choose a provider that you believe best fits you. Lastly, input your preferred days and time in which you are available to meet virtually. Each psychiatrist is available seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., perfect for those who need to schedule outside working hours.
The initial session begins at $299, and each follow-up will be $119. Services are also available in Canada.
Pros of Teladoc:
- Able to choose your psychiatrist from photos and short bios
- Can schedule video or phone sessions
- Access to teen mental health
Cons of Teladoc:
- May take up to a week to get matched with a psychiatrist
- Pricing on the website is not super clear, may depend on your insurance
- Teladoc can not prescribe controlled substances
Brightside focuses on helping those living with anxiety and depression. According to the website, "86% of Brightside members feel better within 12 weeks."
Brightside is different in that your service is subscription-based. You will be billed monthly, and while this is nonrefundable, you can cancel at any time. Brightside allows you unlimited access to your psychiatrist via instant message through its app, live video sessions and check-ins.
Getting started is easy. First, take a mental health evaluation, and then Brightside will match you with a provider who will create a personalized treatment plan for you. Medication is then sent directly to your door.
The cost varies, but the monthly subscription starts at $95 for unlimited sessions.
Pros of Brightside:
- You can order your medication to be delivered
- Find and meet with a psychiatrist as soon as 48 hours
- Patients have free access to Brightside's self-care lessons
Cons of Brightside:
- Health insurance is not accepted (although HSA/FSA may be accepted)
- Service isn't available in every state
- You can't choose your psychiatrist
Similar to Teladoc, MDLive serves patients with both general illness and mental health conditions. MDLive can prescribe medication for those with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, trauma and PTSD, panic disorders and other mental health conditions.
MDLive serves children and teenagers aged 10 and over. Parents and guardians have the option to choose their child's provider from a long list of mental health professionals.
After signing up and sharing the reason why you are looking for a psychiatrist, you can choose your own provider. Then connect with your psychiatrist via your phone, tablet or computer. Each session will last from 15 to 30 minutes.
The initial session is $284, and each follow-up is $108, depending on insurance coverage.
Pros of MDLive:
- Service is available to children over the age of 10
- Finding and meeting with a provider can be done in just a few days
- Accepts a wide range of insurance providers
Cons of MDLive:
- A parent or guardian must be present during a child's initial session
- Can not prescribe stimulants or substance controlled medications
- MDLive providers can not provide paperwork for disability or emotional support animals
Should you seek a psychiatrist?
Patients pursue psychiatric help for various reasons, whether they need help getting through everyday life, have heavy feelings of sadness or want a potential diagnosis. Seeing a psychiatrist can be a good place to start for patients longing to find relief.
If you are carrying heavy burdens or simply want to discuss starting a medication, a psychiatrist may be right for you. A provider may also point you in the right direction if you have questions about counseling or therapy. However, a psychologist is not licensed to prescribe you medications. If medication or diagnosis is your number one concern, seek a psychiatrist.
Before choosing an online or in-person psychiatrist, make sure to take into consideration your health insurance provider and any preferences you expect from your psychiatrist. The right psychiatrist for you will have experience treating your area of concern and will work with your schedule.
As always, speak with your primary care physician or therapist before deciding if medication or a psychiatrist is right for you.
If you have thoughts of suicide or self-harm, seek immediate help by calling 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifetime at 1-800-273-8255.
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.