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Implementation and utilisation of telepsychiatry in Ontario: a population-based study

Serhal E, Crawford A, Cheng J, Kurdyak P. Can J Psychiatry. 2017; 62(10):716-25. Epub 2017 May 29.


Objective — Rural areas in Ontario have fewer psychiatrists, making access to specialist mental health care challenging. Our objective was to characterise psychiatrists delivering and patients receiving telepsychiatry in Ontario and to determine the number of patients who accessed a psychiatrist via telepsychiatry following discharge from psychiatric hospitalisation.

Method — We conducted a serial panel study to evaluate the characteristics of psychiatrists providing telepsychiatry from April 2007 to March 2013. In addition, we conducted a cross-sectional study for fiscal year 2012-2013 to examine telepsychiatry patient characteristics and create an in-need patient cohort of individuals with a recent psychiatric hospitalisation that assessed if they had follow-up with a psychiatrist in person or through telepsychiatry within 1 year of discharge.

Results — In fiscal year 2012-2013, a total of 3801 people had 5635 telepsychiatry visits, and 7% (n = 138) of Ontario psychiatrists provided telepsychiatry. Of the 48,381 people identified as in need of psychiatric care, 60% saw a local psychiatrist, 39% saw no psychiatrist, and less than 1% saw a psychiatrist through telepsychiatry only or telepsychiatry in addition to local psychiatry within a year. Three northern regions had more than 50% of in-need patients fail to access psychiatry within 1 year.

Conclusions — Currently, relatively few patients and psychiatrists use telepsychiatry. In addition, patients scarcely access telepsychiatry for posthospitalisation follow-up. This study, which serves as a preliminary baseline for telepsychiatry in Ontario, demonstrates that telepsychiatry has not evolved systematically to address need and highlights the importance of system-level planning when implementing telepsychiatry to optimise access to care.

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Keywords: Mental health services Access to health care Rural/northern health services

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