Wealthier neighborhoods had more access to virtual mental health services in the pandemic: study

By Tara DeBoer

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toronto (CTV Network) — It is well known that the pandemic worsened the mental health of Canadians across the country, but it is wealthier neighborhoods that have received more access to virtual care options and services, according to a new study.

Data has shown that the mental health of those struggling with anxiety, depression and psychological distress worsened as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and one in 10 Canadians surveyed by the Canadian Mental Health Association in July 2020 they quoted it.

But the pandemic has also affected the delivery of mental health services, with in-person appointments suspended indefinitely and virtual appointments offered instead, a recent report shows.

And according to a recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, virtual delivery of mental health services was more available to Canadians living in higher-income neighborhoods.

WEALTHIER NEIGHBORHOODS HAD MORE ACCESS New data on virtual mental health care from the Institute released in December showed that mental health services increased overall across Canada, however access to virtual services varied geographically and by population .

The report analyzed trends in virtual mental health services in five Canadian provinces, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, between April 2019 and March 2021.

A visit with a family doctor, pediatrician or psychiatrist, where the diagnosis in the claim is anxiety or depression, were the classified forms of mental health services in the report.

While offering virtual care is one means that can increase accessibility for patients, the report shows that accessibility was still granted more to some patients than others during the pandemic.

Although patients of all income levels accepted virtual mental health care, virtual care was more accessible to those in higher-income, more urban neighborhoods.

And while more services became available through family doctors, pediatricians and psychiatrists – the report cites an increase of 22%, 39% and 16%, respectively, between January and March 2021 compared to the previous year – it also showed that there was a larger income gap than other forms of virtual healthcare based on the income level of the patients.

The difference in usage ranged from 7 to 14 percent for mental health services for lower and higher income patients, respectively, and a smaller gap of 3 to 5 percent was found by rank for all others. services.

Having a lower income is also linked to worse mental health outcomes, influenced by factors such as increased stress, lack of access to basic necessities such as food, housing, opportunities and general mental health care, according to a report from Statistics Canada published last July.

The geographic location of patients was also identified as a factor in the increased use of virtual health services, with patients living in urban areas reported to use more virtual mental health services.

The report found that 53 percent of care was provided to patients living in urban neighborhoods, compared with 47 percent in rural or remote neighborhoods.

In terms of the reasons for this disparity, an Ontario COVID-19 Scientific Advisory Board report released in September noted that low-income people face challenges such as homelessness, privacy, digital literacy support, and high-speed Internet. speed.

The Advisory Board states that these barriers may impede virtual mental health services. Also, because people of color are more likely to face these problems due to the long-term damages of systemic racism, the lack of culturally relevant mental health services would also be a barrier to accessing care, he explains.

AN INCREASE IN SERVICES DUE TO THE PANDEMIC While the accessibility of virtual mental health care was found to be inequitable across income levels, overall, as service needs increased during the pandemic, so too increased the number of services provided to diagnose anxiety and depression for Canadians. .

In fact, there was a 15% increase in mental health medical service offerings between January and March 2021, reaching 502,007 services, as well as a reported 16% increase in physician payments for health services. mental.

In 2020-2021, virtual services accounted for 57% of mental health services provided by physicians, a considerable jump from just 4% in 2019-2020.

A notable increase in payments for virtual mental health services by physicians was also cited, from $29 million in 2019 to 2020 to $621 million in 2020 to 2021.

The report states that, moving forward, more work on the appropriateness of virtual care in relation to patient health outcome will help guide decision makers in the healthcare space on how to better integrate virtual services. of mental health care into existing medical care. systems

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