Receiving hospital-level psychiatric care from the comfort of home is now possible with the launch of Fraser Health’s virtual hospital. Patients get to sleep in their own beds and receive the same treatment and supports as they would in a regular hospital. The Virtual Psychiatry Unit—the first unit of its kind in B.C.—is open and treating eligible patients, with 140 patients admitted and discharged thus far.

(Photo) Virtual Psychiatry Unit staff

The Virtual Psychiatry Unit allows eligible patients who can manage at home to receive psychiatric interventions safely and conveniently. Patients are admitted to the unit through the Emergency Department or Inpatient Psychiatry Unit. If they choose to access this new model of care, their home becomes a virtual hospital room, complete with access to friends, family and pets, as well as digital connections to care teams who make house calls if needed. People often make a better recovery in their own surroundings and staying in hospital longer than necessary can have a detrimental effect on their condition and their independence.

“Everyone in B.C. deserves access to care so that they can live full and healthy lives, regardless of where they live,” said Jennifer Whiteside, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. “Fraser Health’s new Virtual Psychiatry Unit will help more people receive the care and support they need, in the comfort of their own homes.” 

During their stay, Virtual Psychiatry Unit patients connect with psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, general practitioners, peer support workers, social workers and other members of the care team via video chat, phone calls and instant messaging. All equipment is provided to patients. Patients’ vital signs, including heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen saturation levels, temperature and weight, are monitored remotely and clinicians access the data on their laptops. 

“Virtual hospital will enable more patients to receive the timely treatment they need at home safely and conveniently. By increasing our capacity and providing people-centred care, solutions like virtual hospitals also contribute to the sustainability of our health system,” says Dr. Victoria Lee, president and CEO, Fraser Health.

During the time they are admitted to the Virtual Psychiatry Unit, patients are able to continue with their day-to-day activities while focusing on their recovery goals with essential acute supports in place. This model of care works well for many people, including post-partum mothers with new babies as well as young adults experiencing mental health concerns for the first time. 

“The technology is easy to use,” says Julie (named changed to protect privacy), a former patient who spent approximately one month in the Virtual Psychiatry Unit. “My care team saw me struggling on a daily basis and was able to connect me with the help I needed to ensure I felt safe.”

Virtual Psychiatry Unit patients have access to 24-hour nursing support and monitoring, medication, regular psychiatry assessments, and collaborative planning with their care team, just as they would in a regular hospital. They can also participate in virtual group sessions and social activities focused on mental well-being. At this time, the unit can support up to eight patients at any given time.

“Treating people in their own home environment has so many added benefits—they have the support of family and friends and, in some cases, are able to continue working,” says Dr. Anson Koo, Program Medical Director and Regional Department Head, Mental Health and Psychiatry programs, Fraser Health. “I am encouraged by the positive feedback we have received from many patients about their care experience.”

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