Science

Telepsychiatry: Online consultations via Talk to Dr. Lee

Psychiatrist Ruby Jade Lee-Cheng says telepsychiatry allows her and her father Paul V. Lee to help patients cope with the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Psychiatrist Ruby Jade Lee-Cheng says telepsychiatry allows her and her father Paul V. Lee to help patients cope with the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Amid the uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to take care of both our physical and mental health. Through telepsychiatry, a father and daughter have been addressing the needs of their patients in the age of social distancing and lockdowns.

As all of us can attest to, dealing with the pandemic and the sweeping changes in the way we work and play has been very stressful.

Shifting to telepsychiatry

Psychiatrist Paul V. Lee, who is Chairman of the Psychiatry Section of Manila Doctors Hospital, has over 30 years of experience.

“This sudden change in the daily routine can cause depression and anxiety. Other than this, the fear of getting the virus can also add to the stress,” psychiatrist Ruby Jade Lee-Cheng told Digital Life Asia.

Lee-Cheng, together with her father and fellow psychiatrist Paul V. Lee, offers online consultations via their Talk to Dr. Lee site. Note that these online consultations are not for emergency cases, which should be handled by going to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Telepsychiatry refers to the use of telecommunications technology, such as videoconferencing, to provide psychiatric assessment and care.

“Our clinics were abruptly closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and ECQ. Hence, our patients could not reach us and have a consultation. However, the transition to telemedicine went more smoothly for psychiatry since patients were trying to reach us online and through social media,” Lee told Digital Life Asia.

Lee, who is Chairman of the Psychiatry Section of Manila Doctors Hospital, said he and his daughter did not encounter much difficulty in transitioning to telepsychiatry.

“The response so far has been surprisingly good. The day we launched the website and social media accounts, immediately there were already inquiries and those led to appointment bookings. Our existing patients reached out through the website and were willing to try online consultations. We have been receiving positive response to this kind of service from the patients,” he said.

Creating the site

How did the idea of setting up the Talk to Dr. Lee site come about?

“The website has been the idea of my sister and her husband (Crystal Lee Gonzalez and Yves Gonzalez) even before the pandemic. They both initiated the development of the website and social media accounts. It took a few days to conceptualize everything and to create the website and social media presence,” Lee-Cheng said.

According to Lee-Cheng, telepsychiatry offers other advantages apart from convenience.

“There is still no comparison to face-to-face therapy in a clinic setting, but a few advantages would be the following. It is easier for patients who have physical limitations to use online consultation services. Also, since therapy is done in the comfort of their homes, this helps with eliminating the social stigma related to receiving mental counseling or other therapy. There is also a chance to see the patient’s home environment and be able to observe their behavior at home,” she said.

Social stigma

“Unfortunately, there is still a stigma in the Philippines when it comes to mental health. However, there are more Filipinos that are becoming more aware of the importance of taking care of one’s well-being. There is a need for awareness campaigns promoting that mental health is an integral part of the overall health of a person. Our country is definitely taking the right direction in removing the stigma. That’s why we believe in the saying ‘it’s okay not to be okay,'” Lee-Cheng said.

In fact, companies in the Philippines are now more aware of the need to take care of their employees’ mental health. Particularly during this pandemic.

“Currently we have completed the Philam Life webinar, with others also inquiring to get us. We believe that companies are definitely more aware and taking into consideration mental health to be included in their health programs and the importance it poses to properly protect their employees’ overall well-being. Even some insurance companies are also beginning to explore the concepts of including mental health as part of their health coverage,” Lee shared.

Coping with stress

Today, June 1, the ECQ ended and some businesses have started reopening as Metro Manila transitioned to the GCQ (general community quarantine). This does not mean, however, that the pandemic is over, or that the stressful conditions have disappeared.

How, then, can we cope with this crisis and protect our mental health? Lee-Cheng shared the following tips.

  • Take breaks from COVID-19 news and updates.
  • Take care of yourself. Exercise regularly, eat well-balanced meals, get enough sleep, and avoid alcohol, caffeine, and addictive drugs.
  • Relax and unwind. Do activities that will help keep you productive and stress-free.
  • Reach out to others. Express yourself to your loved ones because you are not alone.
  • Ask for help. It is okay not to be okay. There are professionals who can help deal with these kinds of situations, like psychiatrists and other therapists. The best thing you could do for yourself is to ask for help.

Meanwhile, her father said they will continue offering telepsychiatry even after the quarantine ends.

“Telepsychiatry is definitely going to be part of the new normal. With the uncertainty and fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to take advantage of the technology to provide online consultation services to those in need. At this point, our priority is the safety and mental health of everyone,” Lee said.

So, remember, you are not alone. And it’s okay not to be okay. Don’t hesitate to ask for help.