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Variations in the uptake of telemental health technologies in community and crisis mental health services during the early pandemic: a survey of mental health professionals in the UK

Rains, L. S., Dalton-Locke, C., Landau, S. , Needle, J. J. ORCID: 0000-0003-0727-1391 & Johnson, S. (2022). Variations in the uptake of telemental health technologies in community and crisis mental health services during the early pandemic: a survey of mental health professionals in the UK. BMC Psychiatry, 22(1), 776. doi: 10.1186/s12888-022-04385-1

Abstract

Background
One of the many challenges faced by mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic was how to deliver care during lockdown. In community and crisis services, this often meant rapidly adopting or expanding the use of telemental health technologies, including phone and video calls. The aim of this study is to explore variations in use and report staff views of such technologies during the early stages of the pandemic. The primary analysis compared rates of use between professions, demographic groups, genders, regions, and crisis and community services.

Methods
We used data from an online survey conducted by the Mental Health Policy Research Unit in Spring 2020 regarding the impact of the pandemic on mental healthcare in the United Kingdom. We included quantitative data from all professional groups working in community or crisis services providing care to working age adults, including general and specialist services. Our outcome of interest was the percentage of clients whom clinicians primarily interacted with via videocall. We also collected demographics and professional characteristics such as the type of mental health service respondents worked in. In addition, we explored respondents’ views and experiences of telemental health as a medium for providing care.

Results
978 participants were included in the primary analysis (834 provided outcome data for community services, 193 for crisis services). In community services, virtually all staff reported stopping some or all face-to-face appointments following the onset of the pandemic, with a large majority using video or phone call appointments where possible instead. Telemental health use was higher in community than in crisis services, and amongst professionals who mainly provided psychotherapy or peer support than in other groups. There was also evidence of use being lower in regions in Northern England, Scotland, and Wales than elsewhere. There was no evidence of an association with staff gender, age, or ethnicity. Staff were generally positive about telemental health and intended to make more use of technologies following the pandemic. However, significant barriers to its use were also reported, often involving skills and available infrastructure.

Conclusions
Despite its rapid implementation, telemental health was viewed positively by clinicians who saw it as an effective alternative to face-to-face appointments in some contexts, including during the pandemic. However, adoption of the technology also has the potential to exacerbate existing or create new inequalities without effective management of training and infrastructure needs.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Publisher Keywords: Telemental health, Videoconferencing, Telehealth, Covid‑19, Pandemic, Lockdown, Community Mental Health Services
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA75 Electronic computers. Computer science
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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