IFHS Clinic Offers Psychiatric Counseling via iPad

Wednesday, October 30 2013

Unalaska’s clinic has added a new treatment to its roster of services -- one that's delivered on an iPad.

A doctor from the Alaska Psychiatric Institute is now offering free counseling via video chat.  

Dr. Mark Erickson participates in appointments every Monday afternoon from his office in Anchorage. His patients in Unalaska are typically speaking to him from a private room at the Iliuliuk Family and Health Services clinic, on a secure internet connection donated by GCI.

Clinic director Eileen Conlon Scott says she hopes the teleconference program can help compensate for the lack of a psychiatrist on the island.

"Now the patients don’t have to wait until we have someone coming in quarterly,” Scott says. “If they want to look at changing their psychiatric medications, they don’t have to fly out to Anchorage to get that done. There’s really no restrictions during the week for our patients to get access to a psychiatrist if they need it."

Patients who are seeking counseling must ask the clinic to set up their initial visit, and they're charged for an office visit on a sliding scale. But Scott says they don’t have to be pre-screened by clinic staff.

"Some people still won’t open up unless it’s an outsider,” Scott says. “So we go ahead and make you an appointment, the counselor leaves the room, and they just do one-on-one with the psychiatrist."

Right now, the program is in a pilot phase. Scott expects that to last another six months or so before the Alaska Psychiatric Institute and GCI re-evaluate the service. But about a half-dozen patients have signed up for counseling sessions since the service started in October. 

In the meantime, Scott says the clinic is currently looking to make another addition to its mental health department.

Behavioral health director Beth Weeks is stepping down from her job on Thursday. Her family is relocating to Soldotna, where Weeks will work as a social worker for Peninsula Community Health Center.

Unalaska's clinic administrators are in the process of interviewing candidates for her old job, Scott says.

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