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Seeing a psychiatrist online (telepsychiatry)

Some psychiatrists do consultations over the internet­, using video calls (for example via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime).

Instead of meeting in person, you and the psychiatrist talk to each other using a computer, tablet or smartphone. You and the psychiatrist will see each other on the screen and hear each other talking in real time.

This is sometimes called 'telehealth' or 'telepsychiatry'.

Studies show that online consultations can work just as well as face-to face consultations.

Online consultations can be very convenient, because they cut down your travel time. They can be particularly useful if you live in a rural or remote area, or find it difficult to travel.

How does an online consultation work?

You might do the consultation in a local hospital, a GP clinic, health service, or at home. The psychiatrist will be at their workplace.

Each psychiatrist (or health service) has their own preference for which software or app they use. They will give you instructions beforehand.

During your appointment, the psychiatrist will speak with you and ask you questions in the same way they would at a face-to-face consultation.

Who can have online consultations?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth is being used widely for many medical appointments.

Contact your psychiatrist to ask if you can have your appointment via telehealth.

Sometimes a face-to-face consultation is needed, for example for a physical check-up or to prescribe some medications.

What do I need in order to have a telepsychiatry appointment?

If you do the online consultation at a hospital or clinic, they will provide all the equipment for you.

If you do the online consultation at home, you will need:

  • a quiet, private room
  • a fast and reliable internet connection
  • a computer, tablet or smartphone (your psychiatrist will tell you which devices will work with their software).

As a guide, you will need internet speeds of at least 0.8 Mbps (megabits per second) for downloads and 0.25 Mbps for uploads. Faster speeds will give you better quality video. You can test your internet speed here.

If you use a computer, it must have a microphone and a webcam. Most newer computers will have these built in.

Your psychiatrist will give you instructions about how to download the video conference software. You won't need to buy any software.

How do I arrange an online consultation?

Usually, you will need a referral from a GP to see a psychiatrist either in person or online.

Speak to your GP or health service about seeing a psychiatrist online.

The RANZCP’s Find a Psychiatrist directory lists Australian and New Zealand psychiatrists with a private practice who offer online consultations. 

To use the search, check the Show psychiatrists who offer online appointments (any location) box.

How much does it cost?

Australia

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic the Australian Government has made some changes to Medicare rebates for telehealth.
 
All Australian Medicare card holders can access Medicare rebates for telehealth or telephone consultations with a psychiatrist. Contact your psychiatrist to find out how much your appointment will cost.  

If you live in a regional, rural, or remote area, or an aged care facility, or are under the care of a Aboriginal health service and were already receiving telehealth consultations, your psychiatrist will continue to see you under your current arrangement. 

Read more about the cost of seeing a psychiatrist in Australia

New Zealand

Changes to telehealth arrangements in New Zealand due to COVID-19 mean that you can have many medical appointments by telehealth, including psychiatry services.

Health Navigator NZ provides detailed information on how to access telehealth services in New Zealand.

Tips for successful consultations

  • Read the instructions your psychiatrist provides.
  • Make the room as quiet as possible – turn off radios and TVs.
  • If you have young children, arrange care in advance so you don’t get interrupted.
  • Turn off your mobile phone.
  • If possible, test the connection and software before your first consultation.
  • Try to make sure your face is well-lit.
  • Don't sit directly in front of a window, because it can make it hard to see your face.
  • If you have someone supporting you, check that the webcam includes them in the shot.
  • There might be some delay between one person speaking and the other person hearing it. Wait for the other person to finish speaking before you start.
  • Avoid using the internet for other things at the same time (for example streaming TV, downloading movies or playing games).

Q&A about online consultations

Do I have to have an online consultation?
Can I have someone with me?
What about privacy and confidentiality?
Can I have my consultation with the psychiatrist by telephone?
What if I need to cancel the appointment?

Remember

  • If it's difficult for you to travel to a psychiatrist, seeing one online might be a good option for you.
  • Speak to your GP or health service about seeing a psychiatrist online.
  • Find psychiatrists who offer online consultations in the Find a Psychiatrist directory.
Page last reviewed Apr 2020 | C1028V2

This is a general guide only, and does not replace individual medical advice. Please speak to your doctor for advice about your situation. The RANZCP is not liable for any consequences arising from relying on this information. Subject matter experts, people with lived experience of mental illness and carers all contributed to this fact sheet.