Although it’s not exactly “business as usual” at The Royal, clinicians want to assure clients and families that they’re able to access good quality care, even amid a pandemic. The biggest difference is in the delivery.
Where possible, most client care at The Royal has moved to telemedicine. Telemedicine refers to the ability to provide interactive healthcare through modern telecommunications technology. It allows people to “visit” with physicians in real time via a secure video link.
The Royal is a longtime leader in the area of telemedicine and has been delivering care to clients this way for many years.
In September 2010, Bell Canada, as part of the inaugural Bell Let’s Talk campaign, donated $1 million to The Royal to create access to psychiatric consultations via telemedicine. A decade later, the telemedicine program now partners with 186 primary care providers and 16 mental health clinics in 16 communities across the region, such as: Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Deep River, Petawawa, and Beachburg. In addition, The Royal has a telemedicine clinic at Algonquin College that gives students easier access to psychiatric services. Altogether, psychiatrists at The Royal do close to 7,000 telemedicine conferences a year.
Telemedicine has fundamentally changed access to mental health care for people in underserved communities. More clients were able to access specialized health care without the cost, stress, or time involved in travel, but telemedicine also supported clients who lived close by but couldn’t get to The Royal for other reasons. (For example, some clients have chronic pain, which makes it impossible to travel even very short distances.)
Today, telemedicine keeps clients, families, and staff safe from COVID-19 while supporting physical distancing guidelines.
Telemedicine can be used for general psychiatric appointments, the delivery of evidence-based psychotherapy, clinical consultations (both between doctors or doctor to patient), family orientation sessions, and medical education.
Shelley Hale, the director of patient care services of the Operational Stress Injury Clinic at The Royal, says clients have responded positively to meeting with clinicians via telemedicine instead of in-person.
Hale says there is strong evidence that clinicians can assess and diagnose just as reliably over telemedicine as they do face-to-face. What helps, of course, is having a strong therapeutic alliance and relationship with your clients.
“You can do everything via telemedicine that you can do face-to-face,” says Hale. “You can do trauma processing, you can do a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis – you can do all of those things – people just have to adapt.”
Teams across the organization have embraced virtual platforms to continue to care for clients while following physical distancing measures that are important for reducing the spread of COVID-19.
“Telemedicine keeps people safer, and it gives them access to the care that they need,” says Hale.
The Royal is also offering virtual mental health care through a new C-PROMPT clinic. Learn more about it right here.