There is strong agreement that the COVID-19 pandemic will give rise to significant mental health impacts. The pandemic has heightened people’s fears for their own health and wellbeing, and exacerbated underlying mental health vulnerabilities. Social distancing measures to suppress the spread of COVID-19 have led to degradation of social and health supports, with consequent negative impacts on vulnerable people, especially those with mental illness (Zhou, Snowswell, Harding, & Bambling, 2020).
In addition, measures to combat the pandemic have seen significant rises in unemployment and economic strain for large sections of the population, with people already disadvantaged being disproportionately impacted. Unfortunately, this coincides with a range of potential barriers to accessing mental health care as mental health services adapt to social distancing measures. As such, the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted telehealth as a substitute to traditional delivery models in many areas of health including in mental health.
Historically, the uptake of telehealth in mental health has been low and this presents a critical challenge at a time when key leaders nationally are calling for an expansion of mental health services as a means to address the current and developing mental health needs of Australian people.
Telehealth services are desirable because they can contribute to increased accessibility, improved patient experience of care and improved cost efficiency of service delivery.
This evaluation will explore the rapid implementation and uptake of mental health telehealth services at Barwon Health during the COVID 19 pandemic. It will seek to understand the development, uptake and acceptability of a telehealth service across both clinician and consumer groups.