Telemedicine for Pilot Evaluations
On July 15, 2020, the Federal Air Surgeon’s office issued a directive from former FAS Dr. Berry that allowed telemedicine appointments for first-time FAA psychiatric evaluations. In March 2020, Dr. Berry allowed telemedicine appointments for follow up visits, after at least one in-person visit. Before March 2020, all visits with a HIMS psychiatrist had to occur in a doctor’s office. The standards were flexed solely for coronavirus mitigation and to minimize unnecessary travel of the pilot and unnecessary exposure to all parties.
On April 14, 2021, HIMS psychiatrists received instruction from the FAA’s Chief of Psychiatry and Assistant Chief of Psychiatry about the best use of telemedicine. With the wide availability of vaccines, the FAA’s psychiatrists no longer believed that a virtual appointment was an acceptable method for the first assessment of a professional pilot. The point of view was also embraced by industry leaders during a panel discussion.
The stance against virtual assessment for a professional pilot has been affirmed in subsequent HIMS psychiatrist meetings as well as off-line dialogue between HIMS psychiatrists and FAA decision makers. While virtual visits for third-class aviators have not formally been banned, telepsychiatry assessment for any pilot has been discouraged. With each of these provisos in mind, I stopped doing virtual visits in April 2021. I would not want to subject a pilot to an evaluation that could be considered below the standard of assessment. I have reworked cases where the FAA has rejected a prior psychiatrist’s evaluation based on, at least in part, that a virtual assessment was not appropriate for the details of the case.