Telepsychiatry helps Rockford treatment center address doctor shortage

There’s a room at the Rosecrance Ware Center in Rockford where patients have been going for six months to see Dr. Michael Kuna even though he’s not there.

Kuna, who lives in Naperville, appears to them on a television screen. The psychiatrist for 30 years speaks to them as he would patients he sees in person. His patients speak to him as if he were sitting across a desk from them.

The only difference, Kuna said, is the 160-mile round trip he doesn’t have to make to see people who desperately need his services.

The nation is experiencing a shortage of psychiatrists that started in the mid-1990s and is expected to last through 2020, according to the American Psychiatric Association. For several years, there’s been a significant drop in the number of students entering psychiatry residency programs. According to a recent study, the country is short about 25,000 psychiatrists.

What Kuna participates in is called telepsychiatry, and it’s helping treatment centers and hospitals across the country as well as private-practice psychiatrists serve patients in underserved areas and places where demand outpaces the number of available appointments.

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