A telepsychiatry model to support psychiatric outreach in the public sector in South Africa
The access of rural Mental Health Care Users in South Africa to specialist psychiatrists and quality mental health care is currently sub-optimal. Health professionals and planners working in psychiatry lack a well-defined and feasible outreach model to facilitate the delivery of services to remote and rural areas. In response to this challenge, a three-year action research telepsychiatry study was undertaken by the Departments of Psychiatry and TeleHealth at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, to develop a telepsychiatry outreach model based on local research and international evidence. The Model draws on needs and infrastructure assessments of the designated psychiatric hospitals in the province, a review of the published international evidence on telepsychiatry and videoconference-based education, and an evaluation of local clinical and educational telepsychiatry implementations in KwaZuluNatal. The Model proposed is “virtual”, i.e. not bound to provincial or district referral patterns, aims not to add to the burden on the current workforce and is intended to be integrated into psychiatry outreach services and policy. The Model should be subjected to in situ testing for validation and implementation. It is hoped that an implementation of this Model will improve the access of Mental Health Care Users to specialist psychiatry care.