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Group psychiatric care cuts wait times: report

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

Burnaby Hospital, Burnaby, B.C.,Thursday August 29, 2013. (KEVIN HILL/ 24 HOURS)

Burnaby Hospital, Burnaby, B.C.,Thursday August 29, 2013. (KEVIN HILL/ 24 HOURS)

A Vancouver doctor’s findings show months-long wait times to see mental health specialists could be dramatically reduced — with savings to boot — if patients with similar conditions were treated by psychiatrists in a group.

Dr. Ronald Remick’s findings were published this month in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, where the medical director documented his work with the Mood Disorders Association program.

The research found the group sessions could assess 1,500 patients in a single year, with just two psychiatrists at a time seeing six to 12 patients per meeting.

That compares to the average of 214 patients assessed annually using a traditional one-on-one psychiatry model, the findings suggest.

Typically, it can take five or six months to be referred through a family doctor to a specialist. The study said the current wait time for the group program is 32 days.

The majority of those who used the group sessions had severe mental illnesses, which would have cost the health-care system $3,247 per patient annually in one-on-one psychiatry care.

Instead, the research calculated group therapy’s costs are just $550 for a severe patient.

“With this program, we appear to have shortened wait lists for referral (to) one-fifth, and we are assessing more than six times the amount of new assessments compared with the traditional psychiatric outpatient care,” Remick said in his report.

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s provincial programs director Jonny Morris said it’s programs like Remick’s that prevent many with mental illness from reaching crisis levels.

“Of course, when you’re sitting in a group and you see other people in the same experience or a similar experience, it can be very therapeutic,” he said.

“(People) are waiting in shelters, they’re waiting under bridges, they’re waiting in long lines to get access to the system. And that’s something that could be remedied with some innovation.”

Group therapy has demonstrated success in the past, particularly with chronic illnesses. Sessions are not intended to treat the most serious cases.

“Many psychiatrists will feel uncomfortable with this model as it is clearly not how we have been trained,” Remick said in his report.

“We would suggest that it will result in seeing far more patients and offering a better service to our (family physician) colleagues who are often frustrated with our long wait lists or closed practices.”




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