Ottawa

CHEO, Royal aim to slash mental health wait times for young patients

Young outpatients in need of mental health services in Ottawa should see their wait times for treatment at local hospitals cut from nine months to as little as four weeks, according to doctors at both the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and The Royal.

Doctors hope new assessment approach will cut queue to as little as 4 weeks

The Royal, along with the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, is launching a new approach to streamline mental health services for children and youths arriving as outpatients. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Young outpatients in need of mental health services in Ottawa should see their wait times for treatment at local hospitals cut from nine months to as little as four weeks, according to doctors at both the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario and The Royal.

Traditionally, children and youths referred to hospitals by a general practitioner undergo an assessment during their first visit, then join the queue of patients waiting for specific treatment.

But under the new "Choice and Partnership Approach," or CAPA, patients and their families will instead begin with what doctors are calling a "choice appointment". 

"We also ask them in that very first appointment, 'What are your goals? At the end of the time that you've been here, what do you hope has changed?'" said Dr. Gail Beck, clinical director of the youth program at The Royal.

Streamlining the process

By quickly establishing an initial course of treatment, patients can start seeing a health worker in as little as six weeks, according to Dr. Kathleen Pajer, CHEO's chief of psychiatry.
Dr. Gail Beck, clinical director of the youth program at The Royal, says the aim of CAPA is to get young people treatment sooner than was possible with the traditional approach to patient assessment. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

"CAPA tries to put every single patient in with a care provider as soon as possible to identify, from the patient and the family's perspective, what the problem is, what the family has tried, what has worked, what hasn't worked, to try and determine what the family wants," Pajer said.

The approach, developed in the U.K. and already employed by hospitals in Nova Scotia, helps streamline the process for patients, who in some cases may get faster service outside the hospital.

"They may come to us because that's where their doctor sent them, but actually the right treatment might be in the community, at something like Crossroads or the Youth Services Bureau," said Pajer.

Wait times, demand for services on the rise

Wait times for mental health services at CHEO have been on the rise over the past five years, as the number of children visiting the hospital for mental health services has increased by 75 per cent.

But Pajer cautions that CAPA is not simply about reducing wait times.

"If you focus on the wait list only, and you don't do all the rest of the work that has to do with behind the scenes and improving the menu of services, then the wait list returns," she said.

According to Pajer, that means making sure the various mental health-care providers in Ottawa work together to guide and refer patients to ensure they get the help they need within a reasonable amount of time.

Implementing the new system is expected to be "budget neutral," Pajer said, with the exception of some training to make sure health-care workers are equipped to treat a wider range of conditions. 

The full impact of CAPA won't be felt for some time, as CHEO's initial target for the end of 2016 will be a wait time of four months for a first appointment, before eventually reaching the six-week target. Over at The Royal, where the current wait time is up to five months, the ultimate target is four weeks from the time of referral.