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Telehealth project improves rural access to mental health and substance use services

To ensure individuals have access to the mental health and substance use (MHSU) services they need, no matter where they live, Interior Health is expanding access to a rural telehealth pilot project.

“Unless you’ve struggled with a mental illness, it is nearly impossible to understand the barriers and stigma that people face in trying to get the support they need,” says Judy Darcy Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “If you live somewhere where you don’t have ready access to those supports, it can make you feel even more isolated and can sometimes lead to severe outcomes.”

The telehealth project began in January in the rural communities of Creston and Golden. The specially-designed software links rural patients experiencing an MHSU crisis with a psychiatrist in a larger centre, via telecommunication.

“Let’s say a patient goes to a health centre or an emergency department where there are limited mental health or substance use services,” explains MHSU Health Service Administrator Chris Huston. “Rather than asking the person to go to a larger centre, which takes time, we can now connect people almost immediately via secure video conferencing software.” 

Over the past three months, the project has had more than 10 telehealth enabled consultations from rural emergency department locations. Clients, physicians and staff members are all praising the new service.

“This is an amazing tool for us not only to connect with our rural patients but to break down the barriers and stigma that people face in trying to get the support they need,” says Cranbrook Psychiatrist Dr. Reza Khosroshahy. “I’ve used the tool with great success and I’m excited to see the tool implemented across more of our rural communities.”

The telehealth project is currently expanding to Boundary, Fernie, Kaslo, Nakusp and New Denver with services expected to begin in some of those communities by late September.

Interior Health is committed to promoting healthy lifestyles and providing a wide range of quality health-care services to more than 740,000 people living across B.C.’s vast interior. For more information, visit www.interiorhealth.ca, follow us on Twitter @Interior_Health, or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/InteriorHealth.