Groundbreaking online mental health therapy wins national competition

SCARBOROUGH, ONTARIO: Members of Scarborough and Rouge Hospital’s (SRH) Mental Health department accepted the Award of Excellence in Mental Health and Quality Improvement at a gala dinner hosted by the Canadian College of Health Leaders Sunday night for their work pioneering Canada’s only community hospital delivered, internet-assisted cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT).

SRH’s Mental Health department will receive a prize of $7,500 to further development the program after being selected by a committee of leading industry and academic experts tasked with reviewing applications from across the country.

Available through a physician’s referral, iCBT facilitates an adult outpatient program designed to increase accessibility to care while alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Here’s how it works: An SRH therapist dedicated to providing online services emails outpatients one module per week. Patients can complete each module on their own time, and then email it back to the therapist for feedback. iCBT includes interactive content and videos that take six sessions to complete.

“By offering this therapy through the internet, patients are empowered to get the care they need on their terms and on their schedule,” said Dr. David Gratzer, Psychiatrist, SRH. “It means that more people will get access to evidence-based therapy.”

Individuals in need of cognitive behavioural therapy typically face challenges like long wait lists, a shortage of therapists, and lack of access to therapy outside of regular business hours. Now, adult outpatients of SRH’s Mental Health department can access treatment wherever and whenever it is most convenient for them.

“Since implementation, SRH has significantly reduced wait-times for cognitive behavioural therapy from three weeks for a face-to-face session to one week for iCBT,” said Shawnna Balasingham, a mental health Patient Care Manager at SRH.

“In addition, iCBT has proven to be more accessible than traditional therapy sessions with a 30 per cent higher completion rate.”

What’s next? The success of iCBT has inspired the creation of iMindful; a new program developed specifically for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

“Like iCBT, iMindful allows patients to access therapy online at a time convenient for them, but instead of emailing modules, iMindful facilitates care using a web-based platform allowing therapists to communicate with patients in real-time via instant messaging and video chat,” said Alfred Ng, Director, Innovation and Performance Improvement.

The mental health team is looking forward to expanding accessibility to the iCBT program by migrating it’s content onto the same web platform as iMindful in the near future.