Depression affects nearly one in five Americans at some time in their life, causing individual suffering and financial cost. The Internet has made it possible to deliver telemedicine care economically to areas and populations with limited access to specialist or culturally and linguistically congruent care.
This study compared the effectiveness for Hispanic patients of depression treatment provided by a psychiatrist through Internet videoconferencing (Webcam intervention) and treatment as usual by a primary care provider. Adults (N=167) with a diagnosis of depression were recruited from a community clinic and were randomly assigned to treatment condition. Webcam participants met remotely each month with the psychiatrist, and treatment-as-usual patients received customary care from their primary care providers, all for six months. At baseline and three and six months, analyses of variance tested differences between conditions in scores on depression rating scales and quality-of-life and functional ability measures.
All participants experienced an improvement in depression symptoms. Ratings on the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale by clinicians blind to treatment group and self-ratings on the nine-item Patient Health Questionnaire, Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire, and Sheehan Disability Scale showed a significant main effect of time. On all four measures, a significant interaction of time by intervention favoring the Webcam group was noted.
Results suggest that telepsychiatry delivered through the Internet utilizing commercially available domestic Webcams and standard Internet and computer equipment is effective and acceptable. Use of this technology may help close the gap in access to culturally and linguistically congruent specialists.