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Dr Ross Kirkman spent many years practising as a Consultant Psychiatrist in regional and remote areas of Australia and understands how difficult it is for Doctors and patients to gain easy access and advice from specialists.

“I made a decision to spend less time on the road and therefore more time with my patients and my family, so now I offer Telehealth (Telepsychiatry) appointments. Psychiatry is well suited to Telehealth and I have found that with the appropriate technology I am able to interact with patients almost as if I was in the room with them.”

In 2012 Dr Ross Kirkman began consulting full time with GP2U, now with a dedicated Psychiatry Platform PSYCH2U. Last year he carried out more than 1500 consultations using technology like Skype and means he treats patients in Tasmania’s Northwest, East Coast and Interstate without leaving his Sandy Bay home.

Here Dr Kirkam answers the Top Questions around the hot topic of Telehealth and how it benefits his work life balance as well as his patients.

Interviewer: So, it seems like you’ve found a way to create a few extra days off for yourself? Tell us why you got into Telehealth.

Dr Kirkman: “Someone once said ‘happiness is a well-paid part time job’ and that’s what I’ve got with Telehealth and with working with PSYCH2U.”

“Partly I chose to work 3 days a week because that’s what I wanted to do and the way I’ve been able to do that is to work very efficiently. So I work 3 intense days and in those days I see a lot of new patients. The reason why I can work 3 days a week are due to a number of things. Telehealth is better paid than face to face medicine, you get a 50% uplift, so if you’re just doing your 3 days but with the uplift, then that’s the equivalent to 5 days anyway!”

How does PSYCH2U enable you to reduce or eliminate typical costs associated with being a Psychologist? 

“PSYCH2U help me reduce typical costs in 2 or 3 ways really. Firstly, you don’t have to have publicly accessible rooms because you work from home. Also because you run a ‘home office’ you can gain a lot of tax deductions. PSYCH2U essentially make this as easy as possible because it’s really a one-stop-shop. You have an appointment system, you have a simple billing system and you have a note taking facility so that you can send your notes through straight away at the end of each consultation.”

Did the referring GP’s have any concerns when you moved to a fully online practice? 

“The referring GP’s did have some concerns initially, but once they start using the system they find it a great advantage. For a start, It’s very much a ‘shared care model’ so the GP’s often come in at the beginning of the consultation, the nursing staff can help set up the patients at the beginning of the consultation, I then send my notes of the consultation straight away back to the GP at the end of the consultation, so the patients also have a sense that the GP and I are working very much hand in hand.”

“The GP’s find it a terrific model of care, they also feel very happy to refer patients, so your referral rate goes up greatly. And that generates new patients for you, and that generates income.”

How long did it take you to move to a 100% online practice? 

“It took me about 2-3 months of thinking about moving to full-time online, but the actual process only really took about 2-3 weeks. PSYCH2U allows you to pretty much set up and start from day one – taking in patient referrals and seeing patients online, it’s so easy and very cost effective and once you’ve established a good relationship with a particular group practice, for example, you will suddenly get a lot of referrals.”

Has your scope of practice narrowed, given your online clinic? 

“My scope of practice with online has in fact widened, it’s a bit like being a country surgeon, you end up treating everyone who comes to your clinic with whatever surgical problem they have because there’s no other option. The same a psychiatry, you end up treating the whole DSM gamut really of psychiatric disorders. So you have to be prepared to actually give things a go, even if you haven’t done much of that kind of work in the past.”

Are there greater risks associated with Telehealth Psychiatry? 

“I think not, in-fact I think that the risks are less. There’s the simple physical risk that every now and again you have with a patient, that no longer occurs with Telehealth of course. The other ‘medico-legal’ risks I think are less as-well as it’s very much a shared care model with the GP, so working in tandem with the general practitioner, for example, the general practitioner will do all the prescriptions for the medication, and that means that you share that risk of prescribing with the GP. The GP also then has the full list of medications that the patient is on within their software which will highlight any drug interactions that they’ll be able to spot.”

Clinically, is it as accurate when using Telehealth vs face to face contact?

“One thought that might arise with my colleagues is, is it as accurate in terms of your assessments and mental state examinations for example? I think it is. Patients end up establishing a report with you in a very similar way that they do when your face to face, for some patients in-fact, the rapport is better as some people may get a little bit confronted with face to face interviews. So I think that the accuracy of your assessment is as good, hence the risk is the same.”

Would you recommend Telehealth to your colleagues?

“I would recommend Telehealth to all colleagues. It’s a great way of helping people outside of capital city’s, there’s a huge amount of unmet need for psychiatric services outside of the capital city’s and it’s great working from home.”

You can view the full interview with Dr Ross Kirkman via the PSYCH2U website here – https://psych2u.com.au/

For further information or questions on how you too can benefit from Telehealth please drop me a line Jo@vircruit.com.