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Telepsych program launched in northern Ontario

Allison CrawfordSUDBURY, Ont. – A new Northern Telepsychiatry Program will link psychiatrists to Family Health Teams in the North East Local Health Integration Network (LHIN), creating a collaborative care model for both providers and patients and increasing Northerners access to mental healthcare across the region.

Each Family Health Team will be linked by the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) to a dedicated psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

On average, CAMH psychiatrists will spend a half-day with their respective team every two weeks  supporting the primary care team members with their clinical questions, as well as providing consults with patients.

The North East LHIN-supported program relies on its longstanding partnership with CAMH, which developed the program, and will hire a clinical coordinator to schedule the videoconference consults for the Family Health Teams with the Toronto-based psychiatrists. The project has been developed over the past two years, with significant engagement and input from Northern providers and stakeholders.

“This is an exceptional example of collaboration to develop services that improve access to mental healthcare in a part of the province where the need is great,” said Dr. Allison Crawford (pictured), Clinical Head of Telepsychiatry at CAMH. “Linking a dedicated CAMH psychiatrist to a specific health team will ensure continuity of care for patients and provide the opportunity for care providers to engage in collaborative learning.”

The program builds on successful pilots started at Superior Family Health Team in Sault Ste. Marie, the East End Family Health Team in South Porcupine and the Great Northern Family Health Team in New Liskeard. During the expansion phase of this project, five more Family Health Teams will be linked to psychiatric care. There are 27 Family Health Teams in the North East LHIN serving about 156,300 patients.

Dr. Al McLean, a physician with the Superior Family Health Team, has seen tremendous benefits for both patients and staff.

“The program has been a huge step forward for the mental health of our patients. The system has cut down the wait list for very seriously ill patients by more than six months,” explained Dr. McLean. “The ongoing collaborative model has not only allowed us to provide better mental healthcare to our patients but has allowed us to accept more patients with serious mental health problems who previously had no access to primary care.”

He added that “the learning opportunities for physicians, staff, medical students and family practice residents will vastly increase the capacity to treat mental illness for the North.”

“This Northern Telepsychiatry program is helping to build a more coordinated system of mental healthcare, right where most people access the health system most, their doctor or nurse’s office,” said Louise Paquette, CEO of the North East LHIN, who recently received OTN’s inaugural Champions of Telemedicine Award.

“This unique use of technology is not only about increasing access to psychiatric care, but also developing mental health capacity in our primary care providers. It’s a win-win for patients either way.”

About CAMH
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit www.camh.ca.

About the North East LHIN
The North East LHIN is responsible for planning, integrating, coordinating and providing funding to 145 health service providers in Northeastern Ontario, including mental health and addiction providers, hospitals, community support services, community health centres, and long term care homes. It oversees $1.4-billion in local healthcare investments on behalf of the 565,000 residents of Northeastern Ontario. For more information, please visit www.nelhin.on.ca

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