Do you need a referral to see an online psychiatrist?

Do you need a referral to see an online psychiatrist?

If you are wrestling with your mental health, it can be challenging to know how and where to get the help you need. As there are many types of providers, it’s crucial you have an in-depth understanding of how each type can help. You also want to be familiar with the process of establishing care with a provider and how to pay for it.

Lately, it’s become easier than ever to see a mental health provider thanks to the expansion in online health care. Brightside Health’s network includes psychiatric providers who can prescribe medication and licensed therapists who provide evidence-based therapy. 

Before we look at the ins and outs of seeing a provider, let’s quickly review what separates a psychiatrist from a therapist.

What does a psychiatrist or psychiatric provider do?

Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed medical school. This means that all psychiatrists carry the title of MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine).

As for psychiatric providers — many practices utilize psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) to ensure they can treat the patients that need them. This is similar to seeing a nurse practitioner in your primary care doctor’s office. 

PMHNPs are highly-trained specialists who operate under the supervision of a board-certified psychiatrist. They can offer a range of psychiatric services, including prescribing medication.  The American Psychiatric Association says that PMHNPs “assess and diagnose, prescribe medications, provide psychotherapy, provide consultation and liaison services, and participate in policy and research development. All 50 states grant PMHNPs prescriptive authority to some level.”

When it comes to psychiatric providers, whether they are physicians or NPs, the focus is on the biological factors that impact mental health. A psychiatric provider will look at things like genetics and chemical imbalances that may contribute to mental health problems. 

A psychiatric provider assesses an individual and may perform a range of medical tests. Then the provider develops a personalized treatment plan, which may include medication. The provider prescribes medication, handles treatment adjustments, refills, medication management, and more.

Psychiatry vs. therapy

Therapists are a bit different. Therapists generally don’t go to medical school. Instead, they pursue a graduate education in psychology, often earning doctoral degrees (PhD, PsyD, or EdD). Becoming a therapist also requires certification and licensure.

A therapist will focus on the psychological aspects of mental health. They will look at your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Therapists will typically offer talk therapy that utilizes a range of tactics and techniques. One of the main objectives is to help you cope with the challenges you face.

Can you see a psychiatrist online?

You can absolutely see a psychiatric provider online. Evidence even suggests that telepsychiatry services provide similar outcomes as face-to-face visits. Online psychiatry services begin with an initial consultation and can provide both diagnostic medical advice and prescription medications if they are warranted. For many people in remote areas, online mental health care is the perfect option.

Can you see a psychiatrist without a referral?

Just like any medical specialist, your ability to see a psychiatrist without a referral depends on your medical insurance. Because we can’t determine the answer to this question specifically for every insurance policy, let’s look at how it works at Brightside Health.

Self-paying individuals

If you are self-paying for Brightside Health with a credit card, you do not need a referral. You’re free to contact us and set up an appointment at any time. We’ve made sure our care is affordable even without insurance, and paying for Brightside services directly is always an option. We also accept HSA/FSA payments if you have one of those accounts.

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Cigna and Aetna insurance plans

We accept Cigna and Aetna insurance plans. You do not need a referral if you are using one of those insurance plans for Brightside Health. You will only be responsible for copays, deductibles, or coinsurance.

After your visit, Brightside will submit claims for services rendered to your insurance plan. When your insurance has processed the claim, they will send you an Explanation of Benefits (EOB), telling you what services were billed, what amount was covered by the insurer, and what balance, if any, you owe.

Other insurance or providers

If you have different insurance coverage, or if you wish to see a mental health professional elsewhere, you will need to contact your insurance company. You may need a referral from your primary care doctor in order for your insurance to cover your care.

How to get a referral for a psychiatrist

If you do need a referral to see a psychiatric provider, your first stop should be your primary care doctor. Talk to them about how and what you are feeling and ask to be referred to a psychiatric provider. Many doctors and systems offer collaborative care, meaning all of your providers work together to treat you.

There’s an exception to this suggestion, and that’s if you are in crisis.

If you are in emotional distress or thinking about hurting yourself at any point, please make use of these resources:

  1. Visit: If you are having a medical or mental health emergency, call 911 or go to your local emergency department
  2. Text: The Crisis Text Line provides 24-hour free and confidential help. Text ‘HOME’ to 741-741 to connect with a counselor immediately
  3. Call: You can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK to talk with a live counselor 24 hours per day

There is always help available. We also recommend reaching out to a family member or friend to let them know you are having these thoughts and to ask for help and support.

If you’re interested in starting your journey with psychiatric care, Brightside Health is here to help. Our team of world-class professionals are just a phone call or click away, and are happy to assist every step of the way.


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