e-Prescribing Can Help Alleviate the Strain Caused by Increased Demand for Mental Health and Addictions Services

By Dr. Lydia Sequeira

Canadians have long faced a myriad of challenges accessing mental health and addictions services, including not knowing where to go for help, long wait times, limited coverage through provincial health insurance and high costs. These challenges were only exacerbated by the pandemic, which brought on an urgent increase in the demand for these services.

e-Prescribing Can Help Alleviate the Strain Caused by Increased Demand for Mental Health and Addictions Services

While effective for combating COVID-19, the stringent lockdown restrictions greatly impacted mental health and addictions in Canada. Data from many surveys, including Statistic Canada’s Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health, CAMH’s COVID-19 National Dashboard and Infoway’s Canadian Digital Health Survey all show significant increases in the rates of mental health challenges including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorders, with as many as one in four adults screening positive for mental illness or addictions symptoms.

The pandemic also accelerated the development and adoption of digital mental health services, a necessary step towards the enhanced digitization of our health care system. Telemental health services have been employed by specialties like psychiatry for well over a decade, but COVID-19 served as a catalyst for a rapid increase in the use of services such as OHIP-supported video or phone-based telemedicine for mental health and addictions outpatient treatment. It's important that we continue the progress we’ve made in implementing these tools and also that we work to implement complementary tools, such as Canada Health Infoway’s e-prescribing tool, PrescribeIT. The service provides safer and more efficient medication management by connecting community-based prescribers such as physicians and nurse practitioners to community retail pharmacies, enabling the digital transmission of prescriptions.

Beyond the pandemic, the use of telemental health has numerous advantages. These may include improving access to care for patients within under-served populations, as well as for individuals experiencing stigma attached to visiting mental health facilities, or other obstacles to treatment such as OCD-related fear. e-Prescribing nicely complements virtual care because it helps to reduce barriers to access, which can feel particularly acute for those struggling with mental health challenges, when sometimes any extra step — such as having to communicate the same information multiple times to different health care providers — can feel like a massive hurdle.

A significant challenge when treating patients for mental health concerns is that transitions of care are much more common. Often, patients receive a prescription from a mental health specialist such as a psychiatrist, but their ongoing care and treatment plan is managed by their primary care physician, which can make medication management more challenging, with those struggling with mental health challenges being at increased risk for medication discrepancies. All this goes to highlight the urgent need for enhanced communication within the patient’s circle of care, which can often be achieved with effective digital health solutions. For instance, PrescribeIT’s integrated secure messaging tool permits pharmacists and prescribers to quickly align on an appropriate course of action and provide the best medication approach for their patients.

e-Prescribing tools can significantly reduce medication errors. Not only does PrescribeIT’s secure messaging functionality improve communication, but by enabling the digital transmission of prescriptions, it reduces the risk of lost or damaged prescriptions, transcription errors, poor legibility and other issues that are common with paper or faxed prescriptions. This is of particular importance when managing prescriptions for opioids and other controlled substances often used in the treatment of mental health concerns.

Supporting and enhancing the effective treatment of mental health concerns has never been more important, as the demand for services, which already far outpaced what was available, has only increased in recent years. Implementing digital health tools like PrescribeIT that are designed to integrate seamlessly with systems that are already in use helps to ensure success.

This blog post originally appeared as an article in the Toronto Sun.

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About the author
Dr. Lydia Sequeira

Dr. Lydia Sequeira

Dr. Lydia Sequeira is a mental health informatics researcher, and a CIHR Health System Impact Postdoctoral Fellow at Canada Health Infoway and CAMH’s Digital Mental Health Research Lab. Her work is focused on improving mental health care and service delivery through technology.