In Port Hardy a patient sits in a comfortable chair in a sound-proof room with a psychiatric nurse or mental health worker; both are staring at a small screen. Soon the screen lights up and a psychiatrist in Victoria appears on the screen ready to engage.
Welcome to the Vancouver Island Integrated TeleMental Health Collaborative Care Program. Thanks to this program waitlists for psychiatric assessments in Port Hardy have decreased from nine months to approximately five weeks.
The program provides timely psychiatric assessments and treatment in remote areas of the island. Port Hardy is one of many Island Health communities equipped to receive these services. Consults are also happening in Port McNeill, Port Alberni, Sointula, Alert Bay and Campbell River.
The concept of using tele-mental health on Vancouver Island was introduced by Dr. Rivian Weinerman, former Acting Medical Director at Island Health, Dr. John Copen, Island Health's current Medical Director of Telehealth helped with planning, and it was implemented and continues to be led by Dr. Helen Campbell, psychiatric lead for the project. Start-up funding came from the SSC’s Quality and Innovation Initiative. So far, the responses from patients have been very positive about the process. They like it -- they feel safe. Psychiatrists like it too, finding it effective and efficient.
Dr.Campbell says “Tele-mental health is an ideal way to improve access to psychiatric care in remote regions. Once the technology was in place and the processes developed, the rest was very straightforward. The work itself has been very rewarding.” Currently, there are three Victoria psychiatrists in the program who book a specific block of time when they are available and see patients one after another during that block.
There has been a great deal of interest from a number of communities and psychiatrists. For the time being, the service provided is for adults with mental health issues. As the program continues to evolve and expand, plans may accommodate children and youth. For more information, please contact Dr. Campbell at Helen.Campbell@viha.ca