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Virtual health makes enormous gains across BCMHSUS

Virtual health is a patient-centred approach to care that removes access barriers and is a natural extension of the digital tools we already in use.
COVID-19 has expanded remote work opportunities for staff while providing timely care that is virtual, yet in alignment with patient needs.
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​"The one silver lining of the COVID-19 situation is that we're moving light years faster than we expected" said Kim Korf-Uzan, Director, e-Mental Health & Special Projects, BCMHSUS. "As a result, we have been able to implement innovative technologies to meet the needs of our patients."

 In response to COVID-19, rapid changes have taken place throughout the planning and implementation process and in partnership with PHSA's Office of Virtual Health and IMITS to enable our workforce to deliver care remotely.

"BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services is uniquely positioned to lead the way in virtual health. Unlike physical care, a mental health provider doesn't always have to be in the same room as their client. Additionally, many of our clients faced barriers to accessing mental health and substance use care even before the COVID-19 pandemic. These include trauma, unstable housing and stigma. Many also live in rural areas or are unable to travel to see a care provider," says Kim. 

"Virtual health helps reduce barriers so people with mental health or substance use challenges can receive the care and support they need wherever they are in the province, using a digital tool they know works for them."

At the Burnaby Centre for Mental Health and Addiction and Heartwood Centre for Women, for instance, physician visits have been transformed, moving from being entirely face-to-face to including regular virtual visits within a matter of weeks.

"The integration of virtual care allows for a more robust healthcare delivery system that will allow for continuity of care for our patients, despite a wide range of pandemic outcomes," said Dr. Nick Mathew, Medical Director, Complex Mental Health and Substance Use Services.

Starting this week, the majority of Burnaby Centre physicians, including nurse practitioners, will deliver clinical care remotely, with a GP and psychiatrist on-site each weekday to handle necessary person-to-person connections. The centre's four units have been outfitted with custom-built kiosk-style laptops to facilitate video conferencing, and a virtual health nurse is now in place to facilitate connecting patients with providers who are working remotely.  Similar work is being planned for the Forensic Psychiatric Hospital.

"We've completely re-tooled the way we deliver care," said Korf-Uzan. "Once the basics of security and privacy were put into place, the road was clear of barriers. Despite the challenges created by COVID-19, our gains in virtual health are exciting. New technologies that we are introducing will continue to serve our clients and providers beyond the COVID-19 pandemic."

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