Analysis of the uptake and associated factors for virtual crisis care during the pandemic at a 24-h mental health crisis centre in Manitoba, Canada
Svenne, Danielle C.
Bolton, James M.
Hensel, Jennifer M.
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Abstract Background The coronavirus pandemic necessitated the rapid transition to virtual care. At a 24-h walk-in mental health Crisis Response Centre (CRC) in Winnipeg, Canada we adapted crisis mental health assessments to be offered virtually while the crisis centre also remained open to in person visits. Little is known about the sustainability of virtual visits in the presence of comparable in person care, and which visits are more likely to be done virtually, particularly in the crisis setting. Methods An analysis of visits to the CRC from the first local lockdown on March 19, 2020 through the third local wave with heightened public health restrictions in June 2021. Analysis of Variance was used to compare the proportion of visits occurring virtually (telephone or videoconference) during the first wave of heightened public health restrictions (lockdown 1) and subsequent lockdowns as well as the in-between periods. A binary logistic regression examined visit, sociodemographic and clinical factors associated with receipt of a virtual visit compared to an in person visit over the first year of the pandemic. Results Out of 5,357 visits, 993 (18.5%) occurred virtually. There was a significant difference in proportion of virtual visits across the pandemic time periods (F(4, 62) = 8.56, p < .001). The proportion of visits occurring virtually was highest during lockdown 1 (mean 32.6% by week), with no differences between the other time periods. Receipt of a virtual visit was significantly associated with daytime weekday visits, age, non-male gender, living further away from the CRC, no prior year contact with the CRC, and visits that did not feature suicidal behaviour, substance use, psychosis or cognitive impairment. Conclusions A large proportion of virtual care occurring at the outset of the pandemic reflects public anxiety and care avoidance paired with health system rapid transformation. The use of virtual visits reduced over subsequent pandemic periods but was sustained at a meaningful level. Specific visit, sociodemographic and clinical characteristics are more likely to be present in visits occurring virtually compared to those in person. These results can help to inform the future planning and delivery of virtual crisis care.