Source: NIHR Maudsley BRC

The sudden shift from in-person to remote appointments was most apparent in children and young adults. The change was less so in older adults, who demonstrated a 105% increase in remote consultations between the weeks of 9 March and 8 June 2020, compared with a 262% and 298% increase for those aged under 18 and 18 to 65 years respectively. The Medical Research Council (MRC) funded researchers found that these changes were not associated with changes in the prescribing of psychiatric medication.

Researchers analysed electronic health records (EHRs) between 7 January 2019 and 20 September 2020 for all people receiving mental healthcare from South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, video calls accounted for less than 1% of remote consultations in mental healthcare. Since July 2020, video calls have accounted for around 30%, indicating a rapid uptake in the use of video call software to conduct mental healthcare assessments.

Dr Rashmi Patel, MRC UKRI Health Data Research UK Clinical Fellow, Department of Psychosis Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, said:

“It is encouraging that many patients were able to be treated remotely and that these consultations were successful. Our findings highlight the need to ensure all patients have the ability to access and use digital technology for remote consultation, as restrictions are expected to stay in place for the near future. Importantly, the individuals least able to access this technology may also represent the groups most vulnerable to deteriorating mental health through the effects of isolation, unemployment, inactivity and decreased social support, all of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Read the full research paper ‘Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on remote mental healthcare and prescribing in psychiatry’ here