December 4 2019

by: Georgia Pomaki, PhD, CDMP, Leader Mental Health Specialists, Manulife and Chris Anderson, President, Medaca Health Group

Canada has a serious shortage of psychiatrists which is likely to worsen, as demand for treatment grows and supply declines.1 Telepsychiatry is an innovative solution for providing greater and faster access to much needed mental healthcare. It expands access in a world where awareness, self-identification, diagnosis and detection of mental illness is increasing demand for services every day. “Eighty-one per cent [of Canadians] are more aware of mental health issues compared to five years ago”, according to a 2015 study.2

Although one in five Canadians are likely to experience mental health issues3, access to psychiatrists, the only medical specialists trained to treat mental illness, has not kept pace. Currently in Canada, fifty per cent of psychiatrists are over 55; only four per cent are under 35.4 While accurate data on wait times are not available on a national basis, 55% of family doctors rank access to psychiatrists from fair to poor.5

What do gaps in mental healthcare mean for employers?

The highest rates of people living with mental illness are between 20 and 403, while millennials report the most stress.6 These age groups are critical for Canadian employers, who are projected to face a labour shortage of about two million workers by 2031.7 Telepsychiatry can help reduce the impact of this supply and demand crisis, help employees better care for their mental health and employers retain productivity and talent.

What is telepsychiatry?

Telepsychiatry connects psychiatrists with their patients in real time and via secure videoconferencing.8 Its efficacy is no longer in question. In fact, telepsychiatry is considered an evidence-based method for assessments and treatment; patient satisfaction and therapeutic alliance are just as good as with in-person care.9

How can telepsychiatry help Canadian employers and employees?

In the workplace, telepsychiatry can augment early intervention strategies of employers and insurers. By significantly reducing wait times, it can facilitate treatment at an earlier, less serious stage of illness, and help prevent initial symptoms from becoming a crisis. This can help employees better manage symptoms while at work. It also helps those who are off work quickly get on the right path to recovery and return-to-work. The benefits of telepsychiatry can be significant when factoring in cost reductions associated with productivity or disability absence duration.

So, what can employers or insurers do?

  • Learn about telepsychiatry and how it can deliver mental health assessment and treatment
  • Explore how telepsychiatry could help employees at work
  • Identify how to make telepsychiatry accessible to employees who are off work due to mental illness
  • Raise awareness among employees regarding telepsychiatry

There still appears to be reluctance to embrace telepsychiatry both in the public domain and in the medical community in Canada. Driven by those who have grown up with virtual technology, this reluctance appears to be lessening.

Expanding usage and improved access can lead to faster recovery. This will help reduce pressure on the healthcare system and the human and economic burden of mental illness. With earlier access to care, employees struggling can get better faster, and lead more productive and fulfilling personal and professional lives, contributing to stronger organizations.

If you’re an employer looking for tools to assist your employees, or an individual who would like more information about mental health, you can find resources here that may help.

This article was originally published in the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association’s Spark!

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