AUSTIN (KXAN) — Dr. Tarik Shaheen saw a need to expand mental healthcare, which inspired his Texas-based company Iris Telehealth.  

“We partner with different healthcare systems across the country and we try and understand what their behavioral health needs are,” he said. 

Iris Telehealth was one of the tour stops during the American Telemedicine Association’s annual fall conference. The company matches its clinicians to meet the needs of each community nationwide. 

“We provide services in inpatient psychiatric hospitals,” Shaheen said. “We provide on-demand consults for hospital systems, so that would be any patient in the emergency room or med-surg that has a psychiatric complication in addition to a medical issue.” 

Healthcare professionals and policy experts are participating in the conference to highlight innovative telemedicine approaches, program design, and technology implementation. Shaheen said one of the benefits of having these gatherings is to share ideas on what best practices to advocate for. 

“Hopefully, legislators can take that advice into consideration as they’re drafting laws,” he said. 

Telepsychiatry remains in high demand. In Texas, not only is there a shortage of psychiatrists, but the state’s large landmass also presents a lot of accessibility challenges. Half of the company’s doctors are child psychiatrists. 

“You’ve got millions of folks that are going to have to travel hours to get an appointment with a child psychiatrist if they could and there are lots of practical obstacles that make it hard for them,” he said.

“Transportation is difficult. Taking off work is difficult. Getting an appointment and being able to keep it is difficult.” 

Dr. Mark Shuchman remembers a light-bulb moment for one of his patients. 

“The initial concern of ‘oh, I’m not good enough to see someone in person’ turned into ‘oh, I want the guy on the TV,” he said. 

Shuchman says working in virtual healthcare has opened his eyes to how technology transformed the practice of meeting with patients. 

“You can literally get wheeled into a patient’s hospital room to see them or to see them in the ER,” he said. “Anywhere from the ER all the way to a psych unit.” 

However, Shaheen said the telemedicine community recognizes its industry still has limits. 

“Telemedicine’s not a silver bullet,” he said. “We still are not solving some of the fundamental issues. Access to basic things that people need: steady income, steady housing, steady food supplies. There are a lot of areas where people struggle with those sorts of things and there are a lot of social barriers that make it hard.” 

But doctors hope they’re still able to make a difference. 

“You know that you’re reaching people who probably wouldn’t be seeing a psychiatrist otherwise,” Schuchman said.