Mental health services take off online

Wellness Support team
Working from home during lockdown has forced our lead psychiatrist Dr David Codyre and the Wellness Support Team to rethink the delivery of mental health services throughout our network, with positive results. 

“We have not only been able to continue to provide services to patients but also to expand their access to care through a range of virtual health platforms.”

David says he and his 44-strong team could not have moved so quickly without the support of the PHO provider network’s IT team who worked day and night to shape a new online working environment for them.

“Not only has how we work changed, but patients are also responding differently as a result,” David says.

The bedrock of his team’s patient approach over the lockdown period has been offering the choice of phone counselling or telehealth consults using software, though lack of access to data can inhibit patient use of the latter. 

Strong phone uptake

“We have seen strong uptake of phone consultations, in particular, and in part it’s because of the privacy and safety they offer. Perhaps for those reasons we have talked to greater numbers of young people who might otherwise have been ‘no shows’ in the traditional clinical setting. Elderly people also often opt for the less technically challenging phone consult.” 

The availability of different online options has changed the way David and the team have responded to patient need.

“Previously, patients had to wait for an appointment. Now after receiving the referral, we are reaching out to them and offering a range of options, including services they can access themselves online.”

Range of modules 

These include free Just a Thought e-therapy modules teaching cognitive behavioural therapy strategies. They have been specially adapted from an Australian programme for New Zealand’s culturally diverse population and the clinical lead on the project was nurse practitioner Anna Elders.

Senior therapist and educator Lila O’Farrell and her team have reformatted their mindfulness training sessions for delivery to patients via Zoom videoconferencing, with patients responding very favourably to the convenience of this approach. 

Manage Better team health coaches also have shifted from working with referred patients to phone outreach.

“We have also worked with our data management team to identify at risk patients in the community, especially the elderly, and adopted outbound calling to reach out to them and talk through concerns about things like social distancing requirements, remind them about flu jabs and make sure scripts are up to date,” David says.

“The COVID-19 crisis really has turned what we do on its head and forced some constructive changes that will see these online services and programmes become a permanent part of what we offer.

“Throughout this period, our team of psychologists, therapists, peer health coaches, coordinators and support staff has set up a series of Whatsapp groups for communication and support, sharing resources, IT support, advice about delivering virtual services, and humour to ensure we all have a few laughs. As well as helping patients, we are all helping each other.” 

In this year’s New Year’s Honours list, Dr Codyre’s work saw him awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to mental health.