Factors that affect the cost of a psychiatrist include the local economy in which he or she practices, the services obtained by the patient, and the reimbursement rates of private insurers and public health plans. In some communities, access to psychiatric care may be limited, resulting in psychiatrists primarily engaging in medication management rather than performing therapy or spending significant amount of time with patients, which can significantly affect fees and costs. Other factors include the business decisions made by individual psychiatrists or their employers.
Psychiatrists engage in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. Training in this medical specialty typically includes the completion of medical school and a residency in psychiatric medicine. In addition, many psychiatrists complete post-residency fellowships for additional, more specialized training. As this training is so long and expensive, the cost of a psychiatrist’s services is typically fairly high, particularly in comparison to the fees charged by other mental health professionals.
In many cases, a psychiatrist is at liberty to set his or her own fee schedule. This does not mean, however, that insurers or government health programs are obligated to pay a psychiatrist what he or she wishes to charge. Instead, insurers and plan managers can limit compensation for any type of medical service. Depending on the laws in the jurisdiction where the psychiatrist practices, he or she may be able to bill patients for the difference between insurance reimbursement and the actual fees.
The cost of a psychiatrist also depends on the services that he or she provides. Unlike many other types of mental health practitioners, psychiatrists can prescribe medication to patients and assist them in managing pharmaceutical treatment. Some psychiatrists simply provide medication consultations and do not perform any type of psychotherapy. In such cases, the cost of a psychiatrist may represent only a fraction of his or her hourly rate, as the doctor may only see patients for check-ins of 15 minutes or so to determine whether a medication is working or needs to be adjusted. If a psychiatrist offers group therapy, his or her fees may also be reduced, as the cost of the psychiatrist's services are paid for by several patients.
It is also not unusual for the cost of a psychiatrist to be affected by the economic or business climate in which he or she works. In affluent areas, particularly those where renting office space is expensive, a psychiatrist may be forced to charge more than he or she would in a less affluent area. Some psychiatrists choose to work as part of a practice that allows them to share office space and staff with other physicians, which may provide some cost relief to patients.