COVID-19 has impacted everyone in different ways. While it hasn’t been easy for anyone to adjust to a physically distanced lifestyle, it’s been especially difficult for those living with a mental illness. Clinicians and patients have been struggling to coordinate appointments, whether virtual or in-person, to support ongoing care. Those with unique occupational needs – such as frontline healthcare professionals and first responders – have only limited access to mental health resources, and people in rural and remote communities are often unable to connect with specialists and specialized care teams.
While this no doubt paints a grim picture, there is a silver lining: many of the challenges brought on by the global pandemic have also created unique opportunities to innovate and improve how healthcare is delivered to those requiring treatment for a mental illness. In short order, doctors, organizations and governments have implemented new and creative ways to support each other and patients.
From enabling video conferencing and virtual visits to launching entirely new programs, here are just a few ways TELUS Health and other providers have been caring for patients throughout the pandemic – and how we’ll continue to do so, moving forward.
TELUS Health’s role in supporting patients’ mental health.
TELUS Health provided mental healthcare long before the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus has simply increased patients’ need for safe and reliable online support – and physicians’ ability to deliver it anytime, anywhere.
Someinitiatives we’ve been working on include:
TELUS EMR Virtual Visit: This EMR-integrated solution launched just weeks after the pandemic hit in order to enable patients and healthcare providers to interact via phone, text or email. Among other benefits, it creates seamless workflows, minimizes task redundancy and preserves continuity of care and documentation within your existing EMR.
This solution can be used by everyone, giving physicians the opportunity to connect with and observe individuals on camera, which can help them pick up on important body language clues and physical signs that can’t be seen on a telephone call.
PsychedUp CME: Designed by TELUS’ Chief Neuroscience Officer, Dr. Diane McIntosh, PsychedUp CME deepens healthcare professionals’ understanding of how to better diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe or switch psychotropic medications.Dr. McIntosh is also the co-founder of SwitchRx, a free online tool designed to help healthcare providers to switch or combine psychotropic medications safely and appropriately.
“I developed PsychedUp in 2018 because family doctors provide most of the psychiatry care in this country and, in many cases, they don’t have adequate resources and support systems in place,” says Dr. McIntosh. “The idea behind it was to promote appropriate, confident and rational prescribing.”
Espri by TELUS Health: This app was designed specifically to support frontline workers—including firefighters, law enforcement and healthcare professionals – especially through these challenging times but also on an ongoing basis, because of the unique challenges associated with these helping professions. In addition to a resource hub, which is filled with occupation-specific content such as podcasts and videos, the app provides workers with tools for developing healthy habits and one-touch access to crisis support.
An array of new services and initiatives emerge.
In addition to the work TELUS Health is doing to improve care, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a catalyst for a number of new mental health services across Canada.
During the past several months, public funding to support the mental health of Canadians has been on the rise. For instance, in April, the Government of Canada launched a portal called Wellness Together Canada, which connects people to mental health professionals as well as credible information and resources. In addition, there are many online sites that share important educational information for both clinicians and patients such as Anxiety Canada and the Canadian Mental Health Association.
On a provincial level, there’s also been a focus in recent months to launch additional mental health resources. In June 2020, the Nova Scotia Health Authority launched a new website to provide support for those dealing with anxiety, depression and other conditions. In Ontario, the COVID-19 Mental Health Network was started to support frontline workers through free teletherapy sessions. Quebec also announced a $100 million program to help people with mental health issues.
Despite, or perhaps because of the challenges and uncertainty of COVID-19, there have been some positive changes in the healthcare industry. For one, the pandemic has expedited innovative solutions to help patients who are struggling with their mental health. In an extremely short period of time, TELUS Health and other leaders in the healthcare sector have focused their efforts on making healthcare more accessible for patients and more manageable for doctors.
The pandemic has also enhanced collaboration between the public and industry to solve complex problems. Many of these changes are already making a difference in how mental healthcare is delivered to patients – and undoubtably these virtual solutions will continue to help in the future.
“To me, virtual care democratizes medicine,” says Dr. McIntosh. “It brings healthcare to the individual, it meets them where they are, which is really what it’s supposed to be about. The patient must be at the centre of their own care and we must work to make their care as accessible as possible.”