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Health system-level evaluation of tele-mental health services among children and adolescents in Ontario, Canada

Toulany A, Kurdyak P, Gandhi S, Fu L, Grewal S, Kulkarni C, Saunders N, Vigod S, Guttmann A, Chiu M, Pignatiello A. Can J Psychiatry. 2021; Sep 27 [Epub ahead of print]. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/07067437211043395


Objective — To describe the characteristics of children and adolescents receiving tele-mental health services in Ontario, Canada and examine access to a psychiatrist, in-person or via tele-mental health services, following a mental health and addictions (MHA)-related emergency department (ED) visit or hospitalization.

Method — Using linked health and administrative data, we described two cohorts: (1) children and adolescents (1-18 years) who used a provincial tele-mental health programme from January 1, 2013 to March 31, 2017, comparing their MHA-related service use (outpatient, ED, hospitalization) in the 1 year prior to and the 1 year following initial consultation; (2) children and adolescents with high mental health service needs, defined as those with an incident MHA-related ED visit or hospitalization between January 1, 2013 and December 31, 2016, examining their 1-year follow-up with telemedicine and other health care utilization.

Results — In the first cohort, 7,216 children and adolescents (mean age 11.8 [±3.8] years) received tele-mental health services. The proportion of MHA-related ED visits [15.1% pre vs. 12.6% post (test statistic 23.57, P < 0.001)] or hospitalizations [10.2% pre vs. 8.7% post (test statistic 11.96, P < 0.001)] declined in the year following tele-mental health consultation, while local psychiatry visits increased [8.4% pre vs. 17.0% post (test statistic 298.69, P < 0.001)]. In the second cohort (n = 84,033), only 1.5% received tele-mental health services, 40.7% saw a psychiatrist in-person, and 32.5% received no MHA-related outpatient care in follow-up.

Conclusions — Tele-mental health services were rarely used in Ontario, even among high-needs children and adolescents, despite their association with increased access to care and less need for acute mental health care.

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