Ontario expands its usage of tele-psychiatry
TORONTO – As the demand for mental
health services continues to grow and the workforce of psychiatrists
continues to age, timely access to these specialists is becoming a
Modern technology may provide part of the solution. Psychiatrists are
now able to connect with individual patients or community care teams
over a secure two-way video conference network that spans Ontario.
These video consultations over the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) – one of the largest telemedicine networks in the world
– allow doctors to
diagnose and treat patients who may be on the other side of the province
or around the block. Psychiatrists who have integrated the technology
into their practice say it is just as effective as consulting with a
patient in their office. The payoff can be a more efficient use of time
“There just aren’t enough psychiatrists to meet the increasing demand,”
says Dr. Robert Campbell, Physician Lead, Assessment & Mood and Anxiety
Program, Regional Mental Health Care, London and St. Thomas. “We have to
find innovative ways to deliver care to more people.”
The ratio of psychiatrists to residents has slipped by almost 9% over
the past decade, and it promises to decline further. Of the 1,854
psychiatrists practicing in the province, almost half are 55 and older.
And today, fewer medical students are choosing psychiatry as a
At the same time, the need for mental health services is increasing. In
Ontario, 780,000 residents contacted a health professional for mental
healthcare in one year. The World Health Organization is now predicting
that depression will affect more people than any other illness within
the next 20 years. In Canada, mental illness is already the number one
cause of disability.
In the most recent National Physician Survey, 71% of family and general
practitioners identified patient access to psychiatrists in Ontario as
only fair to poor.
“We need to make the best use of our resources, and tele-psychiatry
offers some real advantages,” says Dr. Ed Brown, Chief Executive Officer
of OTN. “Tele-psychiatry can be easily integrated into a physician’s
daily practice. There are some 1,600 video consulting rooms around the
province that are easily accessed and can quickly connect psychiatrists
to their patients.”
Last year, more than 16,000 psychiatric consultations were conducted
over the telemedicine network.
For Dr. David Goldbloom, Senior Medical Advisor, Education and Public
Affairs at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH),
video consulting is perfectly suited to psychiatry. He has been using
the network for several years. “Research shows that it is just as
palatable for patients as in-office consultations. Plus, it’s fun, it
comes with a financial incentive, and can be incredibly satisfying for
both the patient and the physician to overcome the barriers of geography
and specialist access.”
Psychiatrists using OTN are able to bill through OHIP, and they are paid
a slight premium for doing so. To make the system even more convenient,
OTN will soon be introducing new desktop technology that will allow
psychiatrists to conduct video consultations from their own offices.
The Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) is an independent not-for-profit
corporation funded by the Government of Ontario. OTN is a secure,
encrypted video network that helps deliver clinical care and
professional education among health care providers and patients.
Posted October 22, 2009