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December 18, 2019 • read
Online psychiatry: Opening access and changing lives
By Dr. Janet Ritchie
Psychiatry and telemedicine make great partners. I’m thrilled to be part of Maple because it’s allowing patients to have easier and faster access to psychiatrists when they need one.
Canada has a serious lack of psychiatrists. Wait times can be months or even years, so suffering is prolonged and can get worse. Some people even give up trying to get help. This has been a problem for years. Telemedicine — online doctor visits over text, calls, or video — can cut the wait time down to days. Being seen earlier can lead to significantly better outcomes.
And, at Maple, people can consult a psychiatrist without having to get a referral from their family doctor. This cuts the wait time still further and it puts the individual in an active role. Talking to a psychiatrist is as a simple as booking online. Without telepsychiatry, somebody else makes the referral; the patient can only wait.
Online psychiatry also overcomes the rural/urban divide. Patients can reach psychiatrists no matter where they are – small town, big city, the far North, a mining camp, a fishing village. Access no longer needs to be limited by geography.
Plus, the convenience of digital psychiatry can eliminate a lot of the stress and fear that comes with seeking help. Sometimes people have trouble leaving their homes – perhaps because of issues related to why they want to consult a psychiatrist (like anxiety or depression) or maybe because they have young children at home or a very sick relative that they’re looking after. With telemedicine, they don’t have to leave home to get help.
And it allows more flexibility in a way that respects the individual’s situation. There’s no need to take time off work. One can fit the consultation into a lunch hour. So no more explanations or doctor’s notes saying you had a medical appointment. Because you don’t have to go to a doctor’s office, you don’t have to worry about who might see you in the waiting room. You don’t have to battle traffic jams or look for hard-to-find parking. You don’t have to deal with public transportation. And, after the appointment, you can use the time you’ve saved to reflect on it without hurrying to a car or subway or meeting.
Online psychiatry is the new frontier of more effective psychiatric care. It allows that care to be what it should be: a partnership.