Physician James Felix and psychiatrist Marilyn Thorpe in University Health Services. Photo: UVic Photo Services.

Staff and physicians with UVic’s Health Services Clinic have significantly reduced wait times to improve outcomes for at-risk students with acute mental health issues.

With a grant for a pilot project, Dr. Marilyn Thorpe, a psychiatrist in the clinic and the project lead, worked with colleagues and academic co-investigators from the School of Health Information Science to establish a new care pathway and online tracking system to triage and increase patient access.

The new system has sped up care, reduced pressures on local clinicians and raised clinic morale.

Inspired by the concept of a race car pit crew, Thorpe proposed that the care team work together—rather independently through the traditional referral system—to treat a patient simultaneously and compare observations to better support the patient in a time-sensitive way.

The 30-minute PIT appointments—named for the Psychiatric Interdisciplinary Team—incorporate the family doctor’s knowledge of the patient with a psychiatrist’s immediate assessment and care planning. Full psychiatric consultations are scheduled when a more comprehensive review is needed.

With the help of UVic health informatics researchers—Elizabeth Borycki, Andre Kushniruk and graduate student and project manager Helen Monkman—clinic wait times to see a psychiatrist have significantly dropped from an average 43-day wait in 2013 to 10 days in 2016 for a PIT appointment and 15 days for a full psychiatric consultation.

“Our mental health care and treatment community doesn’t usually think of health informatics as a source for these kinds of solutions,” says Kushniruk. “We had an opportunity to work with many different stakeholders and show them what we know and understand about health care communication and how data collection processes influence decision-making.”

“We suggested creating a tracking system that not only followed patients and their care needs,” says Borycki, “but also facilitated the work of doctors and psychiatrists, as well as therapists and counsellors, to better coordinate scheduling.”

“We advised on what kind of data we needed to include in the study, why and where that data could be found,” says Kushniruk. “These and other factors made this research significant in that our statistical findings influenced clinic operations, which is not typical of our other UVic collaborations.”

Funding for the project was provided by the specialist services committee, a joint collaboration of the Doctors of BC, the BC Ministry of Health, and Island Health.

“To our knowledge, this integrated team approach is not being used at other Canadian campuses or in family practices in general. PIT holds great promise for adoption in any number of places,” says Thorpe.

(source: UVic’s The Ring)