Video links to ease psychiatric services workload

MENTAL health patients will be treated through video-conferencing for the first time in the south-west as services experience a flood of new cases. 

South West Healthcare (SWH) has gained $25,000 to install telepsychiatry equipment to treat patients in the far corners of the region. 

SWH director of mental health services Caroline Byrne told The Standard the service was seeing increased demand “outweighing” the ability to meet it. 

“This will be the first time that we’re actually using video conference screens for telepsychiatry,” Ms Byrne said. 

“It’s not to replace face-to-face assessment, it’s adding-on — our emergency psychiatric service is only really by phone.” 

Specialists will also be able to intervene earlier in cases of patients waiting for appointments.

“We’ll be able to act more quickly rather than waiting three days for an appointment.” 

Ms Byrne said the tele-system in New South Wales had helped reduce unnecessary hospital admissions by 60 per cent. 

“This way they will be able to see them and perhaps avoid admission,”she said. 

The technology will be installed at the four SWH sites in Warrnambool, Camperdown, Hamilton and Portland in the next two months. 

Similar screens and online conferencing has been used for acute medicine at Warrnambool Base Hospital.  The telepsychiatry has a capacity for about 20 sessions a day. 

“Once it starts it will be fairly slow and one of the issues we have to deal with is getting people used to the technology,” Ms Byrne said. 

“In the first weeks we would expect between six and 12 a day but when we’re full speed it will anywhere from 10 to 20 a day.” 

Ms Byrne said she understood uncertainty about using screens to assess patients but stressed it would not be used in acute cases. “It’s not a replacement. In psychiatry you have a huge spectrum,” she said. 

“On the one hand you have people who are psychotic — they might have auditory hallucinations — a video conference is not the sort of thing that we would use for the presentation.

“We would be very careful in the sorts of presentations that we use it for. It would certainly be suitable for people with depression or with minor anxiety.” 

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