What Is an Online Psychiatrist?

woman video conferencing with laptop to connect with her family doctor


What Is an Online Psychiatrist?

An online psychiatrist is no different than a regular psychiatrist. This is a doctor (either an MD or a DO) who works in psychiatry, the area of medicine concerned with diagnosing and treating mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders.

Psychiatrists are highly trained in working with mental health concerns. They undergo four years of medical school (following undergraduate) and a four-year psychiatric residency.

Some may even take on a fellowship in a sub-specialty such as addiction or child psychiatry, which adds further years of training. Typically, a psychiatrist will also have training in psychotherapy.

While it is possible to see your primary care doctor for psychiatric concerns or medications, a psychiatrist is a specialist who will be more familiar with the latest research in psychiatric medications and treatment.

The Switch to Telepsychiatry

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most psychiatrists saw patients in-person in their offices, occasionally offering virtual or phone sessions. However, the lockdown restrictions that affected most of the U.S. made it near-impossible for existing patients to see their psychiatrists in person.

At the same time, the pandemic and social injustices coming to the forefront created even more of a demand for mental health care that needed to be delivered via telehealth.

Before the pandemic, it wasn’t always straightforward to have visits with an online psychiatrist covered by health insurance the same way an in-person visit was, due to myriad regulatory issues.

Since COVID-19 began, many of those regulations were relaxed, as well as rules that had previously prohibited an online psychiatrist to see a patient who was in a state where they were not licensed.

The ability to avoid a commute and better access for those in rural areas or those less able-bodied are major reasons why someone might prefer to stay with an online psychiatrist even after the pandemic is over.

The good news is that there is some research that has shown seeing an online psychiatrist can be just as effective as seeing one in person.

How to Find an Online Psychiatrist

Finding an online psychiatrist is fairly similar to finding an in person mental health professional—and the benefit of an online psychiatrist is that you don’t have to worry about the proximity of their office to your home or job! 

First, you might want to consider if you are looking for a psychiatrist who is an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or a DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). Both are fully licensed and board-certified, but a DO might offer a more mind-body look at your life when determining a treatment regimen.

Then, you might also want to consider gender, age, or sexuality of the provider you want to work with. Or, if you are looking for treatment for a certain condition such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, your search may narrow to include psychiatrists with these specialties. 

Depending on the size of the company you work for, an employee assistance program may be able to help you. They can help you find referrals to a psychiatrist.

If you need to pay with insurance, starting with your insurance directory or site is probably a good place to start. You will want to be sure to filter your search criteria to include doctors providing telehealth services.

Personal referrals can be helpful, too. Your primary care physician may be able to help you with a referral, or asking friends and family if they have worked with a psychiatrist they like can also be fruitful.

Online psychiatrist directories can also help you filter via specialty, insurance, gender, and more. You may even be able to directly book through some of these sites or directories.

Finally, a number of telepsychiatry services have recently sprung up at various price points and levels of service. Think about how often you will need services, if it is necessary for you to use insurance, if you want on-demand services, and how often you’d like to speak with a provider.

"Keep in mind that there might be limitations in obtaining certain medications, specifically controlled medications," says Vania Manipod, DO, a psychiatrist based in Orange County, California.

"If part of your medication regimen includes this class of meds, it's important to inquire what their policy is regarding prescriptions."

Differences From Online Therapy

One of the biggest differences between online therapy and online psychiatry is that an online psychiatrist has the ability to prescribe medication, while an online therapist only provides talk therapy.

Additionally, a psychiatrist is able to assess symptoms that show up both mentally and physically. They typically have a better understanding of how mental health concerns may affect physical health and vice versa.

These days, psychiatrists often provide more psychopharmacology or medication management services than therapy, so if you go in expecting therapy and medication, you may be surprised.

However, you will be asked to share some of your mental health history just like in therapy. This may make you feel vulnerable, especially given that most psychiatry visits are 15 or 30 minutes versus therapy sessions of 50 to 60 minutes, so you won’t have as much time to explore them as you would in therapy.

Typically, most people who use an online psychiatrist will see them for medication management and a psychotherapist for talk therapy. Research shows that both approaches may be more effective than either one on its own.

Does Insurance Cover Online Psychiatry?

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was more difficult to have online psychiatry covered by insurance. The pandemic has relaxed some of these rules, though.

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, passed in 2008, requires coverage for mental health, behavioral health, and addiction to be comparable to that of physical health.

This means that if you have a condition like schizophrenia, for example, you might be covered for unlimited doctor’s visits the way you might be if you had a condition like diabetes. However, that is if an insurer offers mental health coverage. Most do, these days, but not all.

Always be sure to check with your individual doctor and insurance company about what will or won't be covered.

Also, some online psychiatrists choose to not work with insurance at all because of the headaches it can present to both the patient and the psychiatrist. These psychiatrists may be able to offer you a superbill, though, that you can submit to your insurance company for reimbursement—if you have a plan that allows you to see out-of-network doctors.

Keep in mind, though, that insurance may only cover certain diagnoses like major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder.

Be a prudent consumer, and "be cautious if these services [or providers] promise a diagnosis, tout their services as being quick or instant, and if they promise to diagnose you without actually seeing a mental health practitioner," says Manipod.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Hilty DM, Ferrer DC, Parish MB, Johnston B, Callahan EJ, Yellowlees PM. The effectiveness of telemental health: a 2013 reviewTelemedicine Journal and e-Health. 2013;19(6):444. doi:10.1089/tmj.2013.0075

  2. Ishak WW, Ha K, Kapitanski N, et al. The impact of psychotherapy, pharmacotherapy, and their combination on quality of life in depressionHarv Rev Psychiatry. 2011;19(6):277-289. doi:10.3109/10673229.2011.630828

By Theodora Blanchfield, AMFT
Theodora Blanchfield is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and mental health writer.