Telehealth and tele-psychiatry in rural areas a success in 5-year trial

John C. Fortney, PhD; Amy M. Bauer, MS, MD; Joseph M. Cerimele, MPH, MD; et al.
Photo of a man holding his mobile phone on a video call with a doctor on the screen

The five-year study, published JAMA Psychiatry, found that telepsychiatry in rural, federally qualified health centers was a resounding success for patients who had screened positive for bipolar disorder and/or post-traumatic stress disorder, commonly known as PTSD.

The trial, called The Study to Promote Innovation in Rural Integrated Telepsychiatry, or SPIRIT, was designed to identify the best approach to delivering tele-mental health services to rural primary-care clinics.

“The results of our trial showed that if you give access to high-quality care for patients who are underserved, they improve their quality of life,” said lead researcher John Fortney, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“One of the major contributions of this study is what we knew to be effective for depression and anxiety we now know also achieves good outcomes for patients with PTSD and bipolar disorder,” said Paul Pfeiffer, M.D., M.S., associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan Medical School and member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. Pfeiffer led the Michigan-based study activities.

The 1,004 participants were enrolled from 24 federally qualified health centers in Washington, Arkansas, and Michigan.


Fortney JC, Bauer AM, Cerimele JM, et al. Comparison of Teleintegrated Care and Telereferral Care for Treating Complex Psychiatric Disorders in Primary Care: A Pragmatic Randomized Comparative Effectiveness Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 25, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.2318

Posted on BrainLine September 14, 2021. Reviewed September 14, 2021.