Barwon Health service has partnered with Deakin University to remotely deliver mental health services during the COVID-19 isolation phase from a new facility at the university’s Geelong campus.
The partnership was in development before the pandemic began, which Deakin’s deputy vice-chancellor of research Professor Julie Owens said was focused on improving care delivery and developing new models and knowledge for mental health care.
"When the COVID-19 measures developed, this partnership was immediately put into action as we could see the urgent need to deliver these services to a vulnerable sector of our community in a safe and supportive way," Owens said.
Barwon Health chief executive Frances Diver said the organisation's telehealth model was first developed five years ago and had been expanded during the pandemic to provide greater support for more patients and carers, including in mental health.
"For many months, Deakin and Barwon Health have been working on a collaborative partnership to leverage the strengths of both organisations.
“Deakin University has been extremely generous and supportive in providing the use of its IT and building infrastructure at its Waterfront Campus to facilitate telehealth mental health care for those in our wider community.”
The telehealth program will continue evolving throughout the remainder of the coronavirus outbreak and afterwards, providing further opportunities for patient care and carer support, Diver said.
It will also be an opportunity for the university’s clinical psychology students to gain first-hand experience in digital mental healthcare delivery, which was already a growing field before much of the world adopted strict isolation protocols.
To support isolation efforts in Australia while ensuring access to care, the federal government recently made changes to Medicare subsidies to include telehealth services for GPs, psychologists and psychiatrists to bulk bill patients over the phone or through video chatting apps without any out-of-pocket costs for consumers.
Research from the University of Wollongong suggests that while the physical separation of patients and mental health care providers can reduce clients’ engagement with caregivers, more immersive technologies like virtual reality can be used to increase the effectiveness of treatments.