October 08, 2020, Kitchener, Ontario
Posted by: Robert Deutschmann, Personal Injury Lawyer
COVID-19 has accelerated the move to modern technology in many fields. Law, trials, business meetings, doctor appointments and now therapist appointments are being done via video conferencing apps like ZOOM, G-Suite and Skype. While the road has been a bit bumpy, it has also leveled the playing field for people by allowing easier and more timely access to some services. The question remains whether the changes will last beyond the pandemic outbreak. For many the move to tech seems long overdue.
Many white-collar workers have seen their commutes disappear and their stress levels decrease. For others, their jobs have disappeared, and stress levels have soared as bills and mortgages come due. Technology has helped many people in despair though by allowing access to therapists when they need them, without having to go to an office, or having to make excuses to hide going for help. It has also allowed those with ongoing mental health conditions to continue treatment and to avoid crisis situations.
The Toronto Star featured an article this week about Wendy McQuaig, psychotherapist, in Orillia and how her practice has shifted in the last six months. You can click through to read the article in full. She recounts that appointments which deal with the most intimate and private mental health issues are occurring over zoom, and for patients they can happen anywhere from the living room to a canoe at the cottage. Many therapists have moved their practices entirely online with video chats or phone calls.
The federal government has recognized that COVID unleashed a mental health crisis on Canadians and has allocated over $240 million to ‘develop expand and launch virtual care and mental health tools to support Canadians”. The provinces are also supporting the initiative.
It appears to be effective. CAMH is reporting that virtual mental health care visits have increased from 338 appointments in February to over 5000 in May. This is great news, and shows that just as in law, education, and government, massive shifts can occur quickly in medicine too. Traditionally resistant to change, institutional services were forced to move rapidly in order to support Canadians in all aspects of life.
While some people prefer in person mental health appointments it appears the majority prefer not having to commute to the doctor’s office. Before the pandemic many insurers required in person office visits in order to cover the cost. Things are changing now. According to the Star article,
There are drawbacks, as Gratzer outlines in his Canadian Journal of Psychiatry editorial. Virtual mental health is less proven to be effective for people with severe disorders, Gratzer wrote, largely because many are poorer and have unstable living conditions, which limits their technological access.
There are also high dropout rates for psychotherapy methods not guided by a human therapist and concerns about patient privacy, confidentiality and finding service delivery methods that are reliable.
But virtual mental health offerings have also expanded access to many in far or remote areas who otherwise wouldn’t have access to that same care. McQuaig said since the pandemic, she’s picked up more clients from the GTA despite being based in Orillia.
As the number of coronavirus cases picks up across Canada and with public health experts confirming Ontario is now in a second-wave of infection, many psychotherapists, including McQuaig, have continued to only offer services online at the moment.
Gratzer said a handful of his patients have since returned to in-person sessions, but it’s too early to tell how many will drop virtual counselling altogether in favour of a return to in-person.
He added more research and monitoring of patients’ experience is needed to inform how virtual mental health care offerings can better be expanded in the future. Provinces, he added, should maintain the ability for psychiatrists to bill for virtual sessions.
If you are in distress, please contact your nearest crisis / distress centre. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency department.