Virtual house calls transform the patient experience

Yanekah suffered a serious car accident at age 18. After years of chronic pain, as well as depression and anxiety, the stress of pregnancy made life even harder to manage.

“I have days where I’m in tears,” says Yanekah, who falls into the 15-20% of new mothers in Ontario who face depression and other mental health disorders, such as anxiety, during and after pregnancy. “I have days where I question myself and there are so many things that I want to be able to do that I’m just not able to do any more and it causes a lot of anxiety. That can be incredibly depressing.”

She began mental health care right away with a specialized perinatal therapist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, part of Sinai Health System. When attending in person became too challenging because of her pain, she started receiving psychiatric care at home via telemedicine. The hospital’s perinatal mental health telemedicine program launched in early 2014 and now involves about six physicians who do 80% of their consultations virtually. It caters to women from pre-conception through pregnancy to the postpartum period.

Telemedicine eliminates the struggle of travelling while pregnant or later with an infant in tow, while coping with sleep deprivation, breastfeeding and other logistical challenges, according to Dr. Ariel Dalfen, Head of the Mount Sinai Hospital Perinatal Mental Health Telemedicine Program.

The program uses the Ontario Telemedicine Network’s (OTN) private and secure eVisit videoconferencing technology. After a simple plugin installation, patients, nurses and psychiatrists click a secure video visit link and are instantly connected on screen.

“I would 100% recommend this tool to other practitioners in psychiatry and in mental health,” says Dr. Dalfen, who notes that telemedicine enables the program to more widely share its specialized services. “We all feel the tremendous advantage in terms of reaching out to patients who might not be able to have service otherwise and really in terms of offering very much patient-centred, patient-focused care where and when patients want it.”

“Patients want health care on their own terms, and telemedicine and other virtual tools are key enablers,” says OTN CEO Dr. Ed Brown. “With the consumer technologies everyone has today, patients should be able to access much of their care from their own home rather than go the hospital or their provider’s office.”