The exterior of the McKnight Brain Institute at the University of Florida. Dr. Carol Mathews is one of the scientists and clinicians working at the institute to advance neurological research. (Photo courtesy of UF Health)
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OCD Patients Helped By Online Therapy, Review Finds

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, is one of the most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States. Although plenty of effective treatments exist that target the disorder, access to them is limited, especially for patients living in remote regions.

A new form of treatment, videoconferencing therapy, is benefitting patients suffering from the OCD and would eliminate this problem, according to a review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Carol Mathews, University of Florida Brooke professor of psychiatry and director of Center for OCD Anxiety and Related Disorders, said the research studies came from Europe and showed “fairly clearly” that videoconferencing is effective.

Dr. Carol Mathews is a Brooke professor of psychiatry and director of Center for OCD Anxiety and Related Disorders at the University of Florida. A review led by Mathews found the benefits of video conferencing for treatment of OCD patients. (Photo courtesy of UF Health)

“You don’t have to be in the same room with someone to be providing effective treatment for them,” said Mathews, the review’s lead author. The review examined OCD articles published in the last five years.

Though it is not yet in standard practice in the United States, OCD therapy application is underway across the country. Currently, the treatment comes in the form of large providers contracting with smaller clinics that lack resources.

This year UF is offering some telepsychiatry treatment to patients of remote clinics throughout parts of Florida for those that don’t offer specialized services.

“I have patients who come from Alabama and from Georgia, and a number of fairly remote places because they cannot get treatment where they live,” Mathews said. “Driving four to eight hours to see somebody at an academic center is not a very cost-effective approach.”

Centers specializing in OCD are limited across the country and Florida, according to Dr. Jason Spielman, a Florida-licensed clinical psychologist and the director of Intensive Treatment Programs at NeuroBehavioral Institute.

The institute, located in Weston, Florida, is one of the few treatment centers that offer intensive OCD care in Florida, including videoconferencing treatment. If countrywide standards are set, Spielman elaborated, the tool would become more beneficial.

With current patient privacy and physician licensing laws, health care providers cannot speak to patients through videoconference therapy outside of their state of licensure. As a result, OCD patients are forced to find new providers when they leave the state.

“I can’t see patients in other states,” Spielman said. “I have a patient who got into college in New York, but I can’t speak to him when he is away.”

Dr. Jonathan S. Comer, Florida International University professor of psychology and psychiatry and the director of Mental Health Interventions and Technology, said the potential benefits of videoconferencing outweigh those issues.

“In a state like Florida where you can drive for hours and still be within the same state, you have a lot of opportunities,” Comer said, highlighting the expansion of care in Florida.

“Leveraging technology to expand treatment options is one of the faster-growing trends in clinical practice,” he said.

With increasing access to video calling services through smartphones, tablets and laptops, patients could save money on travel and accommodation costs.

Mathews said the widespread use of videoconference therapy could also save insurance companies money. With more direct access to specialists, people target their needs early and are less likely to be hospitalized or suffer from disability caused by their illness.

Mathews added that the catch is, most insurance companies can be slow to adopt new approaches.

The guidelines surrounding the use of telemedicine is developing and providers mixed, Comer said, but patients are “excited about the greater accessibility.”

“Each year that I have been studying this, there has been a growing acceptance among patients and providers,” he said.

About Janine Wolf

Janine Wolf is a reporter with WUFT News. She can be contacted by calling 407-928-6317 or emailing janinewolfj9@gmail.com.

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