Read more October 2021

Telehealth to play bigger role as mental health disorders soar

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Covid-fuelled mental-health disorders are not expected to peak until two years after the pandemic subsides, according to listed telemedicine group Doctor Care Anywhere.

As Melbournians eagerly await to join Sydneysiders as ‘‘freedom day’’ draws near after more than 260 days of lockdowns, mental illnesses are on the rise and are set to continue as health services combat backlogs and pent up demand.

Doctor Care Anywhere chief executive and founder Bayju Thakar, who is also a psychiatrist, said mental health disorders usually peak about 18 months to two years following the end of a pandemic and does not expect Covid-19 to be any different.

It comes after Australia’s biggest private hospital operator, Ramsay Healthcare, launched a $3m public private partnership with the NSW government to provide more mental health services to adolescents and young adults.

Dr Thakar said conditions, including stress, anxiety and depression had been rising during the pandemic and his company could help relieve demand on the hospital system, which is expecting to be overloaded once Covid restrictions ease fully and the virus circulates the community more freely.

He said telehealth – while relatively new in Australia – has been standard practice in the UK for about a decade and will help relieve pressure on the health system, with studies showing that 70 per cent of primary care can be done via video consultations.

“There is a big distinction between video and phone and actually a proper telehealth platform versus just picking up the phone and having a chat with someone,” Dr Thakar said.

“The ability to access someone‘s patient record, speak to them visually, have all that information and be able to order your diagnostic tests and review your diagnostic results on the same platform, and get your referrals done, is a vastly different thing to Zoom for doctors. What Covid-19 did is show both patient and clinician is a new way, a better way of doing things actually, which is far more efficient.”

“You‘re going to find that the peak of mental health demand is not even close. Historically, with any sort of pandemic issue mental health spikes about two years after pandemic. So hopefully we can support that and make a difference to the patients who are struggling with accessing mental health,

It comes as Doctor Care Anywhere‘s revenue surged 21.6 per cent to £5.8m ($10.7m) in the three months to September 39, while its number of consultations soared 30.6 per cent to 116,800.

The company, based in Britain, has CHESS Depository Receipt, which began trading on the ASX last December. It initially enjoyed a strong performance, rising from its issue price of 80c to a high of $1.52 in January. But it has since declined 19.9 per cent to 74c since its IPO. Following the release of its Q1 results on Wednesday, however, it jumped 6.4 per cent.

Dr Thakar said telehealth, while suitable for most consultations, did not fully replace face-to-face contact and his company aimed to ensure continuity of care.

“You can‘t do everything remotely, and you shouldn’t do everything remotely. Some of the most powerful things that I’ve been involved in as a clinician is when you hold someone’s hand but they’re truly sick and you can’t do that from a computer, you can’t show the love or care that you would want to when someone’s on their deathbed.

“Those things matter. What this really does is free up capacity. So if you can take 60, 70, 80 per cent of those primary care consultations and allow that to be done digitally, you are leaving the capacity for people to do those things that are so important in person.”

That in person care is at the centre of Ramsay’s partnership with the NSW government which involves Ramsay providing six new inpatient beds provided at Northside Group Macarthur Clinic in Campbelltown for youths aged 14-24, who may be struggling with a range of mood, anxiety, eating disorders and complex trauma.

“The data over the past 18 months has been extraordinary in terms of the increase in presentations to emergency departments of children and young people with increasingly complex disorders, as well as deliberate self-harm,” Ramsay Mental Health Psychiatrist Angelo Virgona said.

“There’s also been a dramatic increase in numbers in psychiatric units in NSW for young people, which we haven’t seen across other age groups.

“This will be a unique partnership between the public and private sectors to provide assistance to the public sector services through this difficult period. We see this as an opportunity for the development of innovative clinical service models where public and private services partner. Both have strengths and we think this be an important addition to the services available to young people in the south west.”

By The Australian