Expanding Tele-Mental Health Care

In Ontario, telemedicine began in the late 1990s with the goal of improving access to care for people living at a distance from healthcare providers while reducing travel for those seeking or providing that care. Over the years, telemedicine services have grown substantially within the province and by 2025, it is estimated that close to 25% of healthcare will be delivered virtually. In Ontario, tele-mental health services are provided using the technology of the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN), anindependent, not for profit organization funded by the Government of Ontario. OTN is one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world, helping to deliver clinical care and professional education amongst healthcare providers and patients.

Tele-mental health uses a home computer, videoconferencing software and the Internet to connect a person to their doctor or a specialist - allowing them to attend an appointment without having to leave home. A Tele-mental health appointment is available to anyone with a valid Ontario Health Card and the appointment is just like a regular appointment; the only difference is that the people involved will see and speak with each other via videoconferencing. Also, just like a regular doctor’s appointment, a tele-mental health visit will be private and confidential; it can only be seen and heard by the healthcare professionals involved.

The Personal Videoconferencing service is easy to use. Many people are worried initially they will be intimidated by or will not be familiar with the technology. However, if someone currently uses email and accesses the Internet, has a webcam and a computer or tablet with a speaker and microphone - they already have all the skills and equipment they will need. During the videoconference, they’ll be able to have a face-to-face conversation with their own healthcare professional - without having to leave the comfort of their own home.

Here at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, we have been using tele-mental health technology for about ten years and have grown our involvement slowly.  Videoconferencing is also used frequently for education and administrative purposes as well.  As a specialized regional hospital, there is much demand for us to continue to strengthen our clinical capability to enhance and improve access and capacity and explore and enable new healthcare delivery models, two areas that are very much consistent with our current Strategic Plan. Our team of healthcare professionals is excited to expand our involvement in this area and to use our technology capabilities to all but eliminate the barriers of time and distance, giving people a whole new level of convenience, efficiency and independence in accessing mental health services.

Ian Dawe