Medavie Blue Cross today announced the launch of an innovative pilot project, in partnership with Medaca Health Group, to give plan members on an approved mental health disability claim easier online access to expert mental health care.

The project will deliver virtual Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), allowing plan members diagnosed with anxiety or depression to receive therapy from an accredited professional from their phone or computer.

Using their computer, smartphone or tablet, plan members log on to the service’s digital platform to communicate with their CBT therapist via video. This is augmented with instant messaging and homework assignments that can be shared during the session.

The CBT treatment will be integrated with the psychiatric treatment service Medaca has offered to Medavie since 2012, providing plan members with early access and effective treatment from psychiatrists working directly with family physicians.

“To our knowledge, this is the only early intervention service in North America that integrates psychological and pharmacological treatments through doctor-to-doctor consults,” says Marc Avaria, VP, Life & Disability Management, Medavie Blue Cross. “The integration of these two treatment modalities is critical to the successful delivery of effective care and treatment for most mental illnesses.”

Medavie Blue Cross was one of the first insurers in Canada to offer early stagepsychiatric treatment, in collaboration with Medaca, in 2012. Since then, plan members have been able to meet with a psychiatrist within 3 weeks of approval from their insurer and employer. Wait times currently in Canada are between 5 and 24 months to see a psychiatrist. As a result, Medavie Blue Cross has seen a 28% increase in the number of mental health claimants returning to work before the end of the short term disability period.

“This new psychotherapy option will only improve upon the mental health outcomes Medavie Blue Cross has demonstrated over the past six years,” says Medaca president Chris Anderson.

Avaria adds that internet-delivered CBT is “another tool in the Medavie Blue Cross mental health care toolkit” and is not meant to replace traditional in-person therapy sessions. “This is an alternative to face-to-face visits that allows plan members to readily access CBT resources in a timely and convenient way,” Avaria explains. “In short, it’s mental health care on their terms.”

Mental health is the leading cause of long term disability in Canada, accounting for over 30 per cent of claims, with a cost two times that of a leave due to a physical illness. Plus, in any given week, a half million workers call in sick because of a mental health issue. Absenteeism and presenteeism together cost Canada’s economy $56 billion in lost productivity alone, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Internet-delivered psychotherapy offers a solution to costly and growing health care challenges, and removes barriers that can prevent people from seeking professional help. The technology is compliant with strict privacy requirements to provide complete anonymity, including encrypted or data-protected interactions between the plan member and their therapist.

The service also reflects Canadians’ growing receptiveness to digital health, as indicated by the findings of a recent Canadian Medical Association survey. Seven in 10 respondents said they would take advantage of virtual physician visits, believing the digital experience would lead to timelier and better health care.